A one-time candidate whose suspicious campaign finances led to an
FBI investigation of former Miami Congressman David Rivera was formally
charged Friday in federal court with three crimes.
Shackled at the
wrists, waist and feet, Justin Lamar Sternad pleaded not guilty to
conspiracy, false-statement and illegal campaign-contribution charges.
is expected to strike a plea deal as he cooperates with federal
authorities in their investigation of Rivera and the former
representative’s close friend, Ana Alliegro, who managed Sternad’s
disastrous Democratic primary campaign for a Kendall-to-Key West
Neither Rivera nor Alliegro is listed by name in the 10-page
federal charging document, which lists Sternad’s nameless
“co-conspirators” hand-delivering stacks of cash and checks to campaign
In all, Sternad received at least $81,486 in unreported
cash and checks in less than three months last summer, the charging
document said. The money helped pay for some fliers that attacked a
Democratic rival of Rivera, a Republican.
“This was a message to
Rivera. It’s a preview of what the indictment against Rivera will look
like,” David S. Weinstein, who once led federal public-corruption
prosecutions in the Southern District of Florida, told The Miami Herald
and El Nuevo Herald after reviewing the case.
Rivera, who has
maintained his innocence, refused comment but pointed to past statements
in which he said he never has been informed by authorities of a federal
Weinstein pointed out that the charging document
indicates prosecutors are hunting for a “big fish.” A sign of Sternad’s
cooperation: he was charged by an “information” sheet filed directly by
prosecutors, instead of an indictment by a grand jury.
charging information against Sternad is about three times longer than
typical information sheets and is filled with details — check numbers,
bank account names, dates of transactions — that telegraph what Rivera
is facing, Weinstein said.
Sternad faces a maximum five years
imprisonment and $250,000 for each count, but he’ll probably get a far
lighter sentence, Weinstein said, noting that the defendant could have
faced more serious money-laundering charges.
“Sternad is clearly
talking, he’s telling what happened and what he knows,” Weinstein said.
“If this was a standard information, and not a shot across the bow at
Rivera, this wouldn’t have all the detail you see.”
But, Weinstein said, Rivera could prove tough to prosecute because Alliegro’s whereabouts are unclear.