For a decade, David Rivera was a political force to be reckoned with, the consummate operative who had a cat-like ability to survive any scrape — even as investigations swirled around him.
This November, the congressman’s ninth life expired.
Voted out of office as the FBI and IRS pressed on with probes into his personal and campaign finances, Rivera officially becomes a private citizen Thursday. Rivera could be charged soon, sources familiar with the investigation say.
Despite the ongoing investigations, Rivera has steadfastly denied he’s under any scrutiny and is already planning a comeback.
Rivera lived and breathed politics since and before his one term in Congress and four in the state Legislature. He was involved in every type of race: obscure party posts, local commission elections, contests for Florida House speaker, presidential races in the state and the winning campaigns of his close friend, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
But Rivera’s penchant for playing the political game proved to be his downfall as well. Rivera often embroiled himself in needless schemes and some ultimately backfired, say friends, foes and former peers.
“At the end of the day, David’s cleverness was a liability. But until now, it was an asset,” said J.C. Planas, a fellow Miami Republican who served and clashed at times with Rivera from 2002-2010 in the Florida House.
Those who were even closer to Rivera, including Rubio backers, have anonymously described his schemes as bordering on “pathological” and “Nixonian.”
When asked about the comparison to former President Nixon, Rivera said by email “Don’t even know what that means.” He then added a “hee hee” laughter message that went on to reference a famous Nixon 1962 press conference after he lost a California governor’s race.
“But I do know this, you won’t have David Rivera to kick around anymore,” Rivera said.
It’s a vintage Rivera response: funny, edgy and laden with political depth. It also shines a light on Rivera's mercurial nature, which has long concerned some Rubio backers. They’re relieved that Rivera’s political career could be over because it lowers the chances that Rubio — a vice-presidential shortlister in 2012 who won’t rule out a future White House bid — would get caught in the crossfire of a future controversy.
The two still own a Tallahassee home, which a bank started to foreclose in 2010 just as Rubio was running for Senate.
Rivera declined to comment for this article. In the past, he would simply laugh when told he was too crafty for his own good.
While in office, Rivera filed false financial reports by listing a phony company that paid him phantom income, records show. He took a gambling-company payout in secret when he didn’t need to. And former campaign vendors say he was involved in a bizarre election scheme involving stacks of untraceable cash to help attack Democrat Joe Garcia, who ultimately beat him Nov. 6.
The FBI is investigating the latter two cases. The state ethics commission rapped him for 11 instances of non-disclosure in October. And he avoided a 52-count state criminal indictment for his use of campaign and public money when he was a state legislator.
Throughout, Rivera’s explanations often changed when it came to specifics. But his general response was the same: Denial of wrongdoing.