Justin Lamar Sternad, a hotel worker and father of five, just wanted to be somebody in the eyes of his family. So he set his sights on a seat in Congress.
“I wanted my wife, children and family to be proud of me,” Sternad, 37, told a judge Thursday in Miami federal court.
Despite his good intentions, Sternad admitted in so many words that he allowed GOP campaign consultant Ana Alliegro and her close friend, then-U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, to recruit him as a straw candidate to challenge Rivera’s political enemy, Joe Garcia, in the 2012 Democratic primary. Garcia went on to beat Rivera in the final election.
“I hate to admit that I was naive,” Sternad told U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga. “I hate to admit that Ana Alliegro and David Rivera were able to take advantage of me.”
Sternad, who had pleaded guilty last year to violating election laws, issued an apology but asked the judge for lenient punishment: home confinement. Showing some sympathy, Altonaga sentenced him to seven months in prison — less than the eight-month term recommended by the U.S. attorney’s office because of his cooperation. Under sentencing guidelines, Sternad had been facing up to one year in prison.
“You did begin with good intentions but were led astray and used by Ana Alliegro and others,” Altonaga said, without referring to Rivera by name.
This post has been updated.