Politics

Former girlfriend testifies against ex-Rep. David Rivera, questions lack of indictment in campaign scandal

Ana Alliegro acknowledges that she was in love with former U.S. Rep. David Rivera and said the two had dated on and off for years since 2003.
Ana Alliegro acknowledges that she was in love with former U.S. Rep. David Rivera and said the two had dated on and off for years since 2003. Courtesy of Ana Alliegro

David Rivera’s former girlfriend repeatedly told a federal grand jury that the ex-congressman was the mastermind behind a complicated campaign finance scheme that landed her and another in prison.

Nearly two dozen times, Ana Alliegro says, she testified that Rivera supplied more than $81,000 used in the crime, that he plotted the cover-up and he then helped her twice escape to a getaway in Nicaragua.

Yet she’s angry that Rivera has yet to be indicted, despite her hour-long Dec. 18 testimony and a mountain of evidence: corroborating witnesses, a trove of emails, a handwritten note from Rivera and even fingerprints. Also, a federal judge last year demanded that Rivera be named in open court.

“Are politicians above the law? I don’t get it,” Alliegro told the Miami Herald in an interview. Rivera, who has long maintained his innocence, couldn’t be reached.

Alliegro said she suspects that Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Mulvihill’s phlegmatic pace has delayed the prosecution of the crime, which was first uncovered by the Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

“I think Mulvihill is the reason he hasn’t been charged,” Alliegro said.

Alliegro pointed to a memo, which she said Rivera had authored, claiming that Mulvihill approached the then-Republican congressman in June 2011 when the prosecutor said he was “bitter and disappointed” because, years earlier, he had not been appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Rivera allegedly claimed that go-betweens of Mulvihill later wanted Rivera to advocate on his behalf with the congressman’s longtime friend, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, if Republican Mitt Romney became president the following year.

Asked by email about the issue and the state of the case against Rivera, Mulvihill didn’t respond. But a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office did. “While we have no comment on this investigation, the specific allegations about AUSA Mulvihill referenced in your e-mail are completely false,” Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos wrote.

Alliegro acknowledges that she’s not sure whether Rivera is telling the truth, calling him “a sociopath with an agenda.”

But, she noted, Rivera was already under federal investigation by Mulvihill in 2011 for alleged tax improprieties regarding his use of campaign funds and a secret consulting contract for a gambling company when he was a state legislator. Mulvihill’s tax-and-gambling investigation appears to have stalled.

The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office also investigated but didn’t press charges, citing old statute of limitations and unclear laws. However, a judge last year found Rivera guilty of violating state ethics charges in a civil complaint.

Why Rivera hasn’t been indicted is a matter of speculation among federal attorneys who have followed the case. Some say the U.S. attorney’s office wants to make sure it has an iron-clad case after losing two separate high-profile public-corruption cases targeting the former mayors of Hialeah and Miami Lakes. Others say Rivera might be providing testimony implicating others. Mulvihill has about three more years to indict in the conspiracy.

Either way, Alliegro said, Rivera has enjoyed toying with the prosecutors.

“David has a Roadrunner-Coyote type relationship with Mulvihill,” Alliegro said. “David wanted to drive Mulvihill crazy.”

As the first state and federal criminal investigations against Rivera started to slow, the congressman faced reelection in 2012. And that’s when he decided, Alliegro says, to use the secret money to prop up a no-name first-time candidate named Justin Lamar Sternad who was running in the Democratic primary against Joe Garcia, a rival of Rivera’s.

Rivera and Garcia have had bad blood since they ran against each other in a 2010 congressional seat in which the Democrat’s consultant, Jeffrey Garcia, was suspected of funding a straw candidate designed to siphon votes from Rivera, who won that race. Alliegro says Rivera might have been repaying the favor out of revenge.

In April 2012, Alliegro, her friend Jenny Nillo and Rivera met at the Catch of the Day restaurant where Rivera drew up Sternad’s federal campaign filings on his iPad.

“Look honey, look sweetie, there’s this guy who’s running for office and I think you should contact him,” Rivera told her, she recalled.

So Alliegro did. Over the coming months, she said, Rivera handed her stacks of $100 bills to pay for Sternad’s qualifying fee, a rental car, a cellphone, robo-calls and at least a dozen mailers.

Alliegro said she didn’t exactly know from where the cash came. The mailers portrayed Sternad as an Obamacare-loving, Trayvon-Martin-supporting, environment-protecting true Democrat in the August 2012 primary for Congressional District 26.

Alliegro said that she and a friend, Yolanda Rivas, designed the mailers with Rivera. Sternad had little input and was essentially a figurehead.

“We worked a whole weekend together and she was there with me and David, and we did the mailers together,” Alliegro said. “He had all the ideas. I just sat there and made it look nice.”

The mailers were made at a firm called Expert Printing and sent by a company called Rapid Mail. The voters who received the mail were all identified by a firm called Campaign Data. Employees and owners with each company have said they’re cooperating with prosecutors — an indication that they had been subpoenaed.

During the primary race against Garcia, Sternad’s campaign-finance reports gave no indication as to how he could afford the mailers or the high-quality work.

As the Herald asked questions, Sternad, Alliegro and Rivera grew nervous about the case. It’s a crime to accept or contribute campaign money without disclosing it and it’s unlawful to intentionally file false campaign-finance reports.

Feeling the heat, Alliegro said she started paying the vendors by way of Sunshine Courier.

“But it was too late. Once you’re in, you’re in,” she said.

At one point, Rivera hand-wrote a press statement for Sternad that Alliegro gave to the candidate. She said prosecutors have that document.

“Sure, we got our story straight many times. He just kept changing the story. We got his story right,” Alliegro said. “And where I was blind, and I’ll admit it, I didn’t realize that every time we got the story straight, it was also throwing me under the bus. I was the scapegoat.”

Alliegro acknowledges that she was in love with Rivera and said the two had dated on and off for years since 2003. She also loves politics. Her grandfather was Cuba’s president for a day before Fidel Castro officially seized power in 1959.

Sternad lost the primary to Garcia, who went on to beat Rivera in the 2012 general election.

But the case didn’t die down. Alliegro was arrested on a previous driving violation. The feds raided her apartment and seized documents and her computer. TV news crews camped outside her parents’ home.

“I thought it would die out. I didn’t understand the situation I was in. I wasn’t thinking rationally. I thought I’m going to go away and the press is going to forget about it,” she said.

She decided to go to Granada, Nicaragua — a country where her father once worked. Rivera jumped at the idea.

“He went for it. He went and bought the ticket,” she said. “He made all the arrangements to get out. He helped pack my suitcases in my apartment. He was all for it.”

While she was away, she said, Rivera visited her at least six times in Nicaragua. Sometimes he entered through Costa Rica to hide his tracks. He also paid for her rent, she said, and was such a frequent visitor that Nicaraguans called him “Don David, el esposo [the husband].”

Sternad pleaded guilty in March 2013 for his role in the scheme. He implicated Alliegro.

Alliegro briefly returned in late 2013 and met with prosecutors. Her lawyers handed over her passport. But Alliegro soon left again for Nicaragua, embarrassing Mulvihill.

“David paid for the tickets,” she said. “It’s on his credit cards. They have all this.”

She said they drove from Miami to Orlando, flew to Houston and took a rental car to San Antonio.

“We went sightseeing at the Alamo,” she said. “It was about him getting alibis.”

They then took a bus to the Mexico border. It was there, she said, that Rivera produced a new passport for her. Actually, it was her old one. She said he had stolen it after her first crossing into Nicaragua and that he had spirited it away for a moment like this.

She then flew from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to San Salvador and then to Nicaragua.

In March of 2014, Alliegro was arrested in Nicaragua at the request of the United States government. She was detained for three days, informally extradited to the U.S. and held in isolation in a Miami detention facility over the weekend.

At her first appearance, the shackled Alliegro looked shell-shocked. She pleaded not guilty and initially fought the charges.

But she finally decided to tell the truth, plead guilty to campaign-finance and false-statements charges, apologize for what she did and name Rivera.

Alliegro was given a one-year sentence that was split between six months she had already spent in jail and six months of house arrest. Then one-time Republican consultant is trying to put her life back together and no longer identifies with the GOP.

“Now I’m an independent. Except I can’t vote,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, who accepted her guilty plea in August and sentenced her in September, twice forced Mulvihill to name Rivera in open court — a rare occurrence. In between, Rivera managed to run for Congress again and lose in a GOP primary.

“Why do we keep not naming the co-conspirator?” Scola asked at one point. “We’re past that time.”

Scola later suggested Rivera wasn’t acting like a man by hanging Alliegro out to dry.

Alliegro doesn’t really blame Rivera for what she did. She said she knew she did wrong. But so did Rivera, she said, and Mulvihill should do something about it.

“Far be it from me to understand the mind of a prosecutor who has an indictment within his reach,” she said. “Why are you stalling this? Why are you stalling this?”

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