GRANADA, Nicaragua -- In this quaint colonial town, vigilant residents who keep close tabs on their neighbors know the enigmatic woman as Doña Anita, a sometime hairdresser with a mean temper.
They describe her as a night owl prone to cursing, buying Coca-Cola by the case and watching dirty movies so loudly the volume has kept them up at night.
The FBI in Miami knows her as Ana Sol Alliegro, a political consultant and potential key witness in a federal corruption investigation into whether former U.S. Rep. David Rivera had ties to an illegally funded congressional campaign.
In Miami, Alliegro has a reputation as an erratic political operative, a three-time failed candidate who describes herself on Twitter as a “Republican Political Guru and Conservative Bad Girl!”
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When she became the center of the investigation last fall into long-time friend Rivera, Alliegro disappeared.
She reappeared in Granada, where she has been living for months and only added to her notoriety.
Neighbors, who say they are so frightened of her they asked not to be identified by name, say she smashed an ex-lover’s car windows and tried to set fire to his windshield after accusing him of sexually assaulting her.
Occasionally, locals have spotted her around town with Rivera, whom townspeople readily identified in photographs shown by a Herald reporter: “Ah, Don David!”
Alliegro, 43, denied it all in an interview last week with The Miami Herald, from the disparaging accounts of her behavior to receiving any visits from Rivera.
“Write what you want to write,” she said.
Alliegro became a subject of federal scrutiny after The Herald and El Nuevo Herald uncovered her role as de facto manager for the law-breaking campaign of congressional candidate Justin Lamar Sternad.
Sternad, a political newcomer, admitted in February, after he was charged in federal court, that he received $81,486 in illegal contributions — and help from unnamed “co-conspirators” — in his doomed primary campaign against fellow Democrat Joe Garcia, a Rivera rival who later won the general election.
Campaign vendors say Alliegro and Rivera were the conspirators, though both deny it. Sternad is scheduled to be sentenced June 3.
Alliegro decamped to Granada sometime in the fall after The Herald reported that she delivered cash and checks to John Borrero, the owner of the mail house that printed Sternad’s campaign fliers.
In September, the FBI raided her home and seized her computer. Alliegro was scheduled to sit down with federal agents on Sept. 6, but never showed. Prosecutors have obtained a recording made by Alliegro in a car in which she and Rivera discussed Sternad’s campaign.
In Granada, Alliegro insisted last week that she tried to dissuade Sternad from running for Congress and urged him to seek a municipal seat instead. She said she doesn’t remember making any recording of herself and Rivera (“I have no idea or recollection of ever having been with the ex-congressman in a car”) and insisted she did not do Rivera’s bidding in Sternad’s campaign.
“David is my personal friend,” she said. “We’ve never worked together.”
She also denied paying Borrero, the mailer. “Absolutely not,” she said.
The FBI has still not spoken to her, Alliegro added, though she said they would know how to reach her.
“I’m not an idiot — they’ve always known where I am,” she said. For example, she said, she went to the U.S. embassy in Managua to renew her passport.
Her bottle-blonde hair cropped short, a cigarette in her left hand, Alliegro initially declined to be interviewed when she answered the door of her house on a corner of Real Xalteva street.
Yet later the same day, she spoke at length to a reporter by phone and accused her Granada neighbors and acquaintances of lying, beginning with Rivera’s visits.
“David has never come to see me,” Alliegro told The Herald.
To corroborate her story, Alliegro put her live-in maid, Luz Marina Ruiz, on the phone.
Ruiz contradicted Alliegro.
“Ah, Don David,” Ruiz said in Spanish. “Last year he came for the Christmas holidays, and he was here a short time ago. He’s come several times.”
Confronted with the discrepancy, Alliegro later offered to hand the phone back to Ruiz so the maid could change her story.
Costa Rican immigration records show Rivera has crossed the Nicaraguan border — about two hours from Granada — several times this year, on one occasion with Alliegro. She and Rivera entered Nicaragua at the Peñas Blancas border crossing on March 1 — 26 seconds apart.
His latest crossing took place April 23. It is unclear why Rivera traveled to Nicaragua through Costa Rica, rather than flying directly to Managua. Rivera did not respond to a request for comment.
Dale Trusty, a Miamian and part-time Granada resident, said when he first met Alliegro in a Granada café, she said she was waiting for Rivera to visit.
“I saw her with that congressman a couple of times, and she was dressed up and seemed happy and looked nice,” said Trusty, adding that Alliegro never introduced him to Rivera. “She said that’s her boyfriend.”
The rest of the time, though, Trusty said Alliegro appeared troubled. “The young lady was stressed out,” he said. “And yet she was very smart.”
Although Rivera and Alliegro are both under federal investigation, the fact that he is visiting her in Nicaragua is not legally problematic — unless he advises her to say or do things that could impede the FBI probe, according to people familiar with the case. The same would apply to her interactions with him.
There’s also nothing to prevent FBI agents from traveling to Nicaragua to question Alliegro if they wanted to do so. Typically, they would work out arrangements with that country’s authorities before meeting with her.
Paying the rent
Relatives of Alliegro’s former landlord in Granada said Rivera paid Alliegro’s $300 monthly rent when she lived for several months in a dingy room in a house on La Libertad street. Though Alliegro moved out weeks ago, Rivera still owes the landlord money, said the relatives, who asked not to be identified.
The landlord, Moisés Sánchez of Toledo, Ohio, did not respond to requests for comment, though his wife said she was familiar with Rivera’s name.
Alliegro called the landlord’s relatives “liars,” saying they tried to hike her utility bills and owed her money for renovations she paid for. She denied that Rivera paid her rent.
“Why would he?” she said.
After she arrived in Granada, Alliegro briefly opened a hair salon on La Libertad street with her maid. She appeared to open a new one, Euro Salon and Spa — which also advertises itself as a hostel — at her new house on Saturday.
From the outside, the house appears far more comfortable than her previous digs.
For months, Alliegro lived behind blue double doors in a dreary room with jalousie windows that opened to a cramped courtyard shared with The Pulsera Project, a non-profit that promotes crafts made by young Nicaraguans who sometimes spend the night in the workshop. They recently painted the façade neon green.
Two members of the non-profit, José Antonio Calero Dixon and Marcos Antonio Cajina González, said Alliegro was a combative neighbor who stayed up all night, rarely went outside and had most of her meals — and Coca-Colas by the dozen — delivered or picked up by Ruiz. The scent of marijuana wafted from Alliegro’s room on occasion, they said.
“She seemed crazy, that woman,” Calero said in Spanish.
Her windows were always closed, he added, though the neighbors could frequently hear her loud and often vulgar conversations.
“Just f---, f---, f---,” Calero said, repeating the curse word in English.
Alliegro and Ruiz, her maid, said it was the members of the non-profit who smoked pot and kept them up.
“They made noise all day and night,” Alliegro said. “It was affecting my nerves.”
Alliegro dismissed the accounts of two people who said she terrorized an ex-lover she accused of sexually assaulting her by shattering two windows on one of his cars and trying to set fire to the windshield of the second one. A watchman at Granada’s main square told The Herald he witnessed the incidents, both in the middle of the night. The incident has become a subject of discussion in the small town, where several other people told The Herald they had heard about it.
“Those are gossip mongers,” Alliegro said, calling the owner of the cars an “associate” but later saying, “He was never anything of mine.”
No charges were filed over the car incidents, and the sexual assault charges appear to have been dropped, the locals said.
Alliegro has had past brushes with the law. She spent a weekend in jail last year after Miami police arrested her on an old warrant for driving with a suspended license. In 2009, she was arrested for shoplifting a pair of sandals.
And in 2007, she was arrested in a dispute with ex-husband Moshe Cosicher in which she allegedly sat naked at a desk with her leg up, compared a gun she was holding to a penis and fired at him, though she missed.
Alliegro, a single mother, said she came to Granada to keep reporters from staking out her family in Miami.
“It was cheap,” she said, adding that she intends to return home at some unspecified point.
The people who tell stories about her life in Granada, Alliegro insisted, are lying.
Why would they do that?
Because they know her past, she said: “People can Google me.”
Miami Herald political writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report from Miami, and special correspondent Tim Rogers contributed from Nicaragua.