Under federal investigation, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera filed for Congress on Thursday, chatting with fellow candidates in line while refusing to talk to The Miami Herald about his legal challenges.
“You can email me,” Rivera said repeatedly.
Rivera said he would take questions if they were in Spanish and said he planned to talk to camera crew that was under contract with Telemundo to cover his filing.
“I’d rather get the sound privately,” Rivera told reporter Mike Vasilinda as they stood in the Florida Division of Elections office.
Asked what he had to hide, Rivera refused to answer.
"If you have a question in English, you can email me,” he told The Herald when asked about a federal investigation into campaign-finance violations, which has resulted in one conviction and the indictment of Rivera’s close friend.
Rivera was far more talkative the night before on “Ahora con Oscar Haza,” a show on Spanish-language Mega TV where he announced he would run against Democratic incumbent Joe Garcia, who beat the Republican U.S. representative in a 2012 race.
Alliegro is charged with helping illegally steer about $82,000 in falsely reported campaign money to the election account of a one-time candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, who used some of the money during the Democratic primary to bash Garcia as he ran against Rivera.
A large chunk of the money, $10,440, was used to pay Sternad’s qualifying fee to run for congress
Sternad has told the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office that Alliegro helped mastermind the plot and that she referred to a person he thought was Rivera as “the gangster.”
Sternad pleaded guilty last year to charges of lying on his federal election reports and accepting illegal contributions. He is scheduled to be sentenced after Alliegro’s trial this summer.
Alliegro, facing similar charges to Sternad, has pleaded not guilty. She was arrested in March in Nicaragua and remains in a federal jail. She has twice failed to qualify for pre-trial release because she’s considered a flight risk.
Rivera refused Friday to discuss his relationship with her and bristled when a reporter referred to Alliegro as his girlfriend.
“Oh, man! That’s a very strong word,” he said, calling it “chauvinist.”
Rivera remained in close contact with Alliegro before, during and after Sternad’s failed campaign against Garcia in 2012. Garcia went on to beat Rivera in the general election in the newly drawn District 26, which stretches from the Miami area to Key West. Two years before, Rivera beat Garcia in a general election matchup.
After Alliegro fled the United States the first time, Rivera visited her frequently in Granada, Nicaragua, neighbors told The Miami Herald.
The Herald also discovered records that showed Rivera would cross over into Nicaragua from Costa Rica, on one occasion with Alliegro, 26 seconds apart. Why didn’t he fly on direct flights from Miami to Nicaragua?
“You can email me,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s acknowledgment of his email account belonging to him is a first. In the past, Rivera would not admit that the account was his, and instead would say that responses from it were from unnamed campaign aides.
Rivera’s finances have long been a mystery.
While he served in the state Legislature, Rivera falsely reported income from U.S. AID. But the federal agency said he never worked for it.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2011 wanted to charge Rivera for 52 counts of theft, money laundering and racketeering over his alleged mis-use of campaign money. But state prosecutors said the alleged crimes were too old or too tough to prosecute.
The state’s ethics commission charged Rivera in 2012 with 11 counts of accepting unauthorized compensation, having a conflict of interest, misusing campaign funds and accepting state reimbursements for travel that his campaign paid for.
The charges stem partly from Rivera’s secret arrangement with the Magic City Casino dog-track company that paid him $500,000 he never disclosed. That payment and Rivera’s others finances also led to an IRS probe.
While Rivera fought off the state charges, he falsely told reporters that he was under no investigation even though he had hired an attorney to deal with the legal troubles.
After losing in 2012, Rivera’s congressional campaign was so broke that it still lists $128,573.58 in debt and obligations owed by the committee.
Yet despite all these financial troubles, Rivera was able to hand over a $10,440 check to the state.
When asked about how he could afford the expenditure while he had such debts, Rivera didn’t say “email me.” He made no comment at all.
Before Rivera can take on Garcia, he needs to get through a crowded Republican primary that includes Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo and former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez.
Curbelo leads in fundraising and endorsements, including former Gov. Jeb Bush and Miami Republican U.S. Reps Mario Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Both Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen served with Rivera but said they're sticking by Curbelo.