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Rep. David Rivera defends himself over federal investigation, plays tape recording of FBI witness

In his first sit down English-language television interview in weeks, U.S. Rep. David Rivera defended himself Sunday against a federal grand-jury investigation into his alleged involvement in a primary campaign against his Democratic opponent.

At one point, Rivera pulled out a black Sony tape recorder and held it up against his lapel microphone to play a recording of what he said was a telephone message from an FBI witness in the case.

The FBI is investigating whether Rivera illegally funneled secret money to Justin Lamar Sternad, who lost in the Aug. 14 primary to Joe Garcia. Garcia now faces Rivera.

“No federal agency has ever stated or confirmed that I am under investigation for anything,” Rivera told WPLG-ABC 10’s Michael Putney on This Week in South Florida.

What Rivera didn’t say: State records show that federal authorities as late as last year were investigating him in a separate matter stemming from a secret $500,000 dog track payment the congressman had arranged.

Rivera had denied at the time that he was even under state investigation or that he had a lawyer. Records showed otherwise.

In the latest investigation, at least two campaign vendors have told The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald that they had been interviewed by federal authorities concerning Sternad’s campaign, which was fueled by tens of thousands of unreported money — much of it cash.

The FBI was scheduled to speak to Ana Sol Alliegro, Sternad’s campaign manager who apparently acted as Sternad’s conduit to Rivera. She disappeared from public view several weeks ago.

A target of a federal investigation is typically not informed of the probe until it is wrapping up or investigators have compiled enough evidence to confront their subject.

When Putney pressed Rivera about his involvement in Sternad’s campaign leading up to the August primary, Rivera tried to discredit vendor Hugh Cochran, who has said Rivera hired his company, Campaign Data, to target voters to receive Sternad fliers.

“Let me play you a little tape from Mr. Cochran, a voice mail that he left with the Miami Herald reporter that is involved in running this story,” Rivera said. “Just so you know Mr. Cochran’s agenda.”