State Politics

In ‘dirty deal’ linked to ex-Rep. David Rivera, judge reduces convict’s prison sentence

Justin Lamar Sternad, center, stands by as his attorney Enrique Yabor, right, and answers questions after the sentencing Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in federal court in Miami.
Justin Lamar Sternad, center, stands by as his attorney Enrique Yabor, right, and answers questions after the sentencing Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in federal court in Miami. EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF

Justin Lamar Sternad wanted to go to Washington, D.C.

Instead, the former congressional candidate took the bus to Miami’s downtown federal courthouse on Friday to get his prison sentence reduced in a campaign-finance scheme tied to former U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

Still dressed in his working clothes after pulling an all-nighter graveyard shift at a local hotel, Sternad said he was thankful that a judge cut his prison sentence from seven months to 30 days with three months’ house arrest. He earned the reduction because of his remorse and substantial cooperation that helped prosecutors nab Rivera’s confidant, Ana Alliegro.

Rivera is the next target for the feds, who have named the former congressman an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

“I hope it’s sooner than later,” Sternad, a 37-year-old father of five, told the Miami Herald when he was asked if he’d like to see Rivera indicted.

“I’m going to cooperate fully with the Department of Justice,” Sternad said. Alliegro is also cooperating.

Rivera has denied wrongdoing ever since the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald exposed the crime in the 2012 Democratic primary campaign for Congressional District 26.

Sternad, a no-name candidate with no money, had filed to run for the office but quickly realized he needed cash. That’s when Alliegro, allegedly directed by Rivera, decided to approach him and offer him money — at least $81,000.

Sternad used the money to pay for various expenses, mailers and robo-calls to campaign against Rivera’s rival, Joe Garcia. Garcia went on to beat Sternad and others in the primary and then bested the Republican Rivera in the general election.

Rivera ran for reelection this year, but was soundly defeated in a GOP primary as the investigation grew closer to him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill credited Sternad for his help and moved the court to reduce his sentence. But, Mulvihill said, he still needed some jail time.

“It’s not as if he’s an innocent dupe,” Mulvihill said.

Sternad’s lawyer, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, argued that his client should just receive house arrest. He acknowledged Sternad did wrong, but at a certain point, he was in over his head.

“He admits his reaction was to stick his head in the sand,” Yabor said about Sternad’s mindset when it was clear he was breaking campaign-finance laws.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga was clearly sympathetic to Sternad. But she agreed with the prosecutor — that Sternad needed to do some jail time for the “dirty deal.”

Altonaga said he should receive a lighter sentence than Alliegro, who made the crime possible and had twice fled the United States to Nicaragua rather than cooperate with the feds. Alliegro last week was sentenced to six months’ time served in jail and six more months of house arrest.

At Yabor’s request, she decided to delay the imposition of the sentence until Nov. 3.

That’s the day before Election Day, when Sternad had hoped two years ago that he’d be running for reelection and not slouching toward the federal Bureau of Prisons to be incarcerated.

Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

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