October 13, 2017

David Rivera has evaded U.S. marshals since July

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Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera avoided criminal charges in an unlawful campaign-finance scheme he was suspected of masterminding. Now he’s evading the feds again — this time, U.S. marshals trying to serve him with a civil lawsuit.

Since July, marshals have attempted to formally notify Rivera in person, by phone, by overnight mail and via email that the Federal Election Commission sued him, seeking $486,000 in penalties for at least $69,000 in unreported campaign cash Rivera funneled to a ringer candidate in 2012

Each time, Rivera, a 2018 candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, has eluded them.

His unknown whereabouts — and a delay of service attempts due to Hurricane Irma — prompted FEC attorney Greg J. Mueller to ask U.S. District Judge Robert Scola on Thursday for 60 more days to serve Rivera. Scola granted the request Friday, giving the feds until Dec. 11 to serve the lawsuit.

“The Commission’s diligent efforts to serve Rivera have been thwarted so far by Rivera’s apparent evasion of service,” Mueller wrote in his request to Scola. “Rivera is almost certainly aware of this lawsuit.” 

Four times, marshals tried to serve Rivera in person. On the first occasion, three days after the FEC sued on July 17, a deputy marshal visited Rivera’s townhouse, inside a Doral gated community.

“The Deputy Marshal then encountered an individual in the driveway at that address who ‘refused to answer questions’ regarding Rivera,” Mueller wrote.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

August 29, 2017

Prosecutors run out of time to charge former U.S. Rep. David Rivera

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Federal prosecutors had half a decade to bring criminal charges against former U.S. Rep. David Rivera in an illegal campaign-finance scheme that landed two of his co-conspirators in jail.

They didn’t. And now, they will no longer be able to do so.

Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of the last recorded act in the conspiracy involving at least $69,000 in secret money Rivera, a Republican who was then a member of Congress, was suspected to have funneled into the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a ringer candidate in the 2012 Democratic primary. As of Wednesday, the statute of limitations to indict Rivera on any of the same charges as his co-conspirators will have expired.

Rivera will have escaped criminal prosecution, though the feds are still going after him in civil court.

He is now a 2018 candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, the chamber where he began his political career in 2002. 

“I can’t really fathom how a person that has been named as a co-conspirator is out there, while I had to serve a sentence, and so did Mr. Sternad,” Ana Alliegro, the Republican consultant Rivera used as a go-between to send Sternad money, told the Miami Herald in an interview Tuesday. “What upsets me is that politicians don’t go to jail in this state. I don’t get it. They don’t get reprimanded.”

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, El Nuevo Herald staff

July 17, 2017

FEC sues Rivera, wants $486K in fines over secret 2012 campaign cash

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@PatriciaMazzei @NewsbySmiley

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera funneled at least $69,000 in secret campaign cash to a ringer candidate in the 2012 congressional election, says the Federal Election Commission — which wants the Republican ex-congressman to pay $486,000 in civil penalties.

The FEC sued Rivera in Miami federal court Friday, seeking the penalties over the unreported money Rivera and Ana Alliegro, a GOP political consultant, used five years ago to prop up straw candidate Justin Lamar Sternad against Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary. Garcia ultimately defeated Rivera in the 2012 general election.

“Rivera’s scheme involved concealing in-kind contributions by paying vendors mostly in cash to produce and distribute materials for Sternad’s campaign,” FEC attorney Sana Chaudhry wrote in the civil complaint against Rivera.

“Sternad’s disclosure reports failed to disclose the true source of the contributions, instead falsely stating that the contributions were loans from Sternad’s personal funds. Rivera took several measures to conceal his involvement and the source of the contributions.”

Sternad and Alliegro, whom Rivera used as his go-between, wound up with federal criminal convictions in the notorious illegal campaign-finance case. Rivera, however, has managed to avoid all criminal charges. The statute of limitations on criminal charges expires next month. 

The FEC’s civil case, in the works since April 2013 but delayed until now, is the latest indication that Miami federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill, are unwilling to criminally charge Rivera — even though U.S. District Judge Robert Scola took the extraordinary step of forcing Mulvihill to name Rivera as the target of his investigation back in 2014.

The FEC lawsuit was first reported by Politico Florida. The illicit campaign-finance scheme was revealed in 2012 by the Miami Herald.

Rivera, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing — or that he’s been investigated at all — could not be reached for comment Monday. His cellphone recording says he’s out of the country.

Rivera is now a 2018 candidate for Florida House District 105. Last year, he narrowly lost another state House bid.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

March 30, 2017

David Rivera files to run for office, again


David Rivera wants to run for the Florida House of Representatives again, after having lost a narrow race in a recount last year.

Rivera, a former state legislator and congressman turned perennial candidate, submitted candidacy paperwork to the Florida Division of Elections on Wednesday. The Republican intends to run for House District 105, currently represented by term-limited Rep. Carlos Trujillo -- who, as it happens, holds the position that once made Rivera so powerful in Tallahassee: budget chief.

Trujillo is still holding out hope he might be named as an ambassador to Panama or Argentina under President Donald Trump -- something he has said would force him to vacate his two-year term after one year.

Another Republican, Ana Maria Rodriguez, has also filed to seek the seat.

A recount last November determined that Rivera had lost the House District 118 seat to a first-time candidate, Democrat Robert Asencio.

Rivera told the Miami Herald in a text message Thursday that he's running again "to continue serving my community." He later telephoned to add, "And I was asked to run by many constituents."

What he's been doing professionally since being ousted from Congress in 2012 is unclear. He says he's a business development consultant.

By the time the 2018 election rolls around, Rivera may no longer be dogged by a federal criminal investigation into the 2012 congressional election. He is suspected of orchestrating an illegal campaign finance scheme against one of his rivals in the Democratic primary. The statute of limitations for prosecutors to charge Rivera will expire later this year; the U.S. attorney's office in Miami has shown no signs of an upcoming indictment.

Still pending against Rivera is a state ethics fine of nearly $58,000 that has yet to be imposed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Rivera had preemptively challenged the legality of the penalty to the Florida Supreme Court, but the justices rejected his appeal in December, because Corcoran hadn't actually fined Rivera.

The Florida Commission on Ethics recommended the fine after finding that Rivera, as a state legislator, failed to properly disclose his income and double-billed taxpayers when improperly seeking a travel reimbursement paid for by his campaign account. Rivera has denied any impropriety.

The ethics investigation began in 2010, after the Miami Herald found problems in Rivera's financial disclosure reports. The review was put on hold until after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Miami-Dade state attorney's office probed for criminal wrongdoing in Rivera's finances. Prosecutors found Rivera appeared to live off his campaign account but never charged him citing an ambiguous law.

Rivera's latest candidacy filing will allow him to open a new campaign account. As treasurer, Rivera listed himself.

--with Mary Ellen Klas

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

December 06, 2016

Florida Supreme Court denies Rivera ethics appeal

From the News Service of Florida:

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up an appeal by former state lawmaker David Rivera in a long-running ethics case.

As is common, justices did not give reasons for turning down Rivera's appeal of a July ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry agreed to reject the case, while Justice R. Fred Lewis wanted to hear oral arguments. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston did not take part, according to an order posted online.

An attorney for Rivera in September urged the Supreme Court to take up the constitutionality of a law that allows the House speaker to impose fines against Rivera in the ethics case, which includes allegations that Rivera was improperly reimbursed by the state for travel expenses that had been covered by campaign accounts.

The state Commission on Ethics and an administrative law judge ruled against Rivera, who has disputed the characterization of his actions but could face nearly $58,000 in fines.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in July that it was too early for Rivera to challenge the constitutionality of the law allowing him to be fined by the House speaker.

While the ethics commission recommended a penalty, the House speaker is charged by the law with the final decision. Rivera’s attorney asked the Supreme Court to consider the “ripeness” issue, but Attorney General Pam Bondi's office asked justices to turn down the appeal.

Rivera, a Miami Republican who served as House budget chairman, left the Legislature in 2010 and served a single term in Congress. He lost a bid to return to the state House last month.

November 22, 2016

Robert Asencio is sworn in to the Florida House despite attempt by David Rivera to challenge him

Robert Asencioby @MaryEllenKlas

After a ruling by the Secretary of State that Democrat Robert Asencio's 53-vote victory over former state Rep. David Rivera was legitimate, the Florida House swore in the Democrat and rejected Rivera's seating challenge. 

The House unanimously rejected the formal challenge for House District 118 Tuesday, during the House's post-election organizational session, after the Florida Canvassing Board, headed by Secretary of State Ken Detzner certified the vote after a recount.

After 10 hours of counting ballots, Miami-Dade County elections department last week declared that Asencio finished with 31,412 votes and Rivera 31,359 — a margin 15 votes closer than when the recount began.

"There is no assertion and no evidence submitted that the Miami-Dade canvassing board...In other words, there was no allegation of any irregularity,'' said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Umatilla, who moved to dismiss the seating challenge. The motion was unanimously approved. 

Rivera’s lawyers asked elections officials to impound about 300 disputed ballots — mostly absentee ballots on which the voter’s signature was either missing or ruled not to match signatures in elections department records -- and asked the Florida House leadership to halt Asencio's swearing in until the ballots were reviewed.

Rivera said the he had received affidavits from 59 of those voters saying they voted by mail and cast their ballots for him and should be counted. But the recruitment and review of selected affidavits would have been unprecedented in a race that did not involve fraud. 

The unanimous vote of the House seated everyone who was sworn in and deemed them all qualified. 

 "Seeing that the House of Representatives is the sole judge of the qualifications, elections and returns of its members, by a vote of the House, you are now officially members of the House of Representatives. Congratulations," said outgoing House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.  

Photo: Robert Asencio

October 24, 2016

David Rivera's latest television ad: Blame it all on Joe Garcia

Garcia Rivera adIn his latest ad attempting to discredit his Democratic opponent, David Rivera is now pinning the blame on his longtime foe, former  Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia, accusing him of "obsessive attacks against David Rivera." The ad inexplicably also offers up a subliminal message, showing a logo for Granma, the Cuban government paper.

Garcia defeated Rivera, who was hoping to be re-elected to Congress in 2012. Garcia then lost the seat to Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, in 2014. Curbelo and Garcia are now in a re-match.  

Rivera's ad is being run on Spanish language television and features his discredited claim against Robert Asencio, his Democratic opponent in the House District 118 race. Asencio, an army veteran and 26-year member of the Miami Dade Schools police department, is 'a criminal,'' the ad claims, referring to unsubstantiated and dropped complaint from the parent of a child who was disciplined on a school bus in 2003.

The school district has said Asencio did nothing wrong, and the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police has withdrawn its endorsement of Rivera for "running a false and defamatory campaign against career public servant and distinguished police officer Robert Asencio." 

Here's the script from the misleading Rivera ad:

"Joe Garcia's allies continue their obsessive attacks against David Rivera. Now their pal Robert Asencio wants to imitate Garcia with his lies and false attacks against David Rivera. Maybe he does it because Asencio has a police record for physically abusing a boy and is now under federal investigation of other crimes.
"Go to the website "Asencio is a criminal.com" and tell Robert Asencio to explain his crimes against children. Say no to Robert Asencio."  Download IMG_2284


October 21, 2016

Rivera plays the Rubio card

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Trying to capitalize on his most famous political friend, David Rivera sent Miami voters a new flier this week prominently featuring an old photograph with none other than Marco Rubio.

"Marco Rubio and David Rivera fighting together for a better future for our families," it reads, in Spanish. "Always by your side."

Rivera doesn't tout an explicit Rubio endorsement. But it certainly implies one.

Rubio, who is busy with his own reelection campaign to the U.S. Senate, hasn't endorsed anyone in Rivera's race. Rivera is vying to return to the state House, four years after losing his seat in Congress under a cloud of political scandal.

Ever since, Rubio has maintained a public distance from Rivera. They sold the house they jointly owned in Tallahassee last year, as Rubio embarked on his presidential candidacy. Earlier this year, Rivera quietly campaigned for Rubio in Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Rivera announced his candidacy the day after Rubio lost the Florida primary and dropped out of the race.

Rivera served as Rubio's rules chief when Rubio was Florida House speaker, and their friendship dates to long before then. The photo used in the flier shows both men when they were much younger, smiling and shaking hands in what appears to be the House floor.

This year, Rivera is embroiled in an ugly contest in House District 118 against Democrat Robert Asencio.

During the primary, Rubio's former rival, Jeb Bush, endorsed a Rivera opponent, Lynda Bell.

An earlier version of this post misstated the number of the district Rivera is seeking.

October 19, 2016

Rivera recycles TV ad from 2012 congressional race


David Rivera looks a little less gray in his only positive ad running Spanish-language TV. That's because the political commercial is four years old.

The 30-second spot features Daniela Peláez, a so-called "Dreamer" whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Colombia illegally as a child. Thanks in part to intervention from then-U.S. Rep. Rivera, she was able to remain in the country.

"When I faced the threat of deportation, I went to see my congressman, David Rivera," she says in the ad.

Except Rivera isn't a congressman anymore. He lost his reelection in 2012. That's the year Peláez -- then a student -- cut the commercial for Rivera.

No matter: Rivera has brought out the old ad back. It still identifies Peláez as a student. It changes none of her words, or his.

The only difference is the campaign logo, which now says Rivera is a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, and the written disclaimer on the end, which also correctly identifies his new campaign.

Rivera is running for the open House District 114 seat against Robert Asencio. The race is a nasty one.


October 12, 2016

David Rivera is back and he's got dirt, but it's not substantiated

A political committee supporting David Rivera is sponsoring a website and running robo calls accusing his challenger for House District 118, Robert Asencio, of being a “child abuser” based on an unsubstantiated 2003 complaint.

Asencio, a Democrat and former sergeant and police investigator with Miami-Dade County Schools, is running against Rivera, the former Republican congressman who is attempting to return to the Florida House.

David RiveraThe allegation, promoted by Rivera’s backers, is based on a complaint by a Hialeah parent in 2003 who said the officer pulled her son “out of her seat by the neck and shirt” while riding on a school bus in February 2003 because she said her son was “disrespectful.”

The school district investigated the complaint and closed the case with a memo to the file, as required by law, said Raul Correa, public information officer for Miami-Dade Schools’ chief of police this week.

“It basically means no violations of law, policy, procedures or guidelines occurred — nothing here — but we're going to put a memo in the file,’’ he said. “It wasn't even a violation of minimum standards.”

Correa also dismissed the claim that Asencio, who worked for another 13 years with the department after the complaint and was promoted to captain, was a child abuser. Robert Asencio

“Our standards are high standards and we do not have child abusers working as police officers in the school district,” Correa said, adding that his comments should not be construed as endorsing either candidate.

Asensio, who retired a year ago after 26 years on the Miami Dade Schools police force, called the allegation, and others on the website “totally false, gutter politics.”

“As police officers you deal at times with unruly people — and I’m not saying that's the case here because I don't remember it,’’ he said. “But it's common knowledge police have to take people in custody, or restrain them for their own safety or the safety of others.”

But Rivera, who initially urged the Herald/Times to review the web site and then said he did not know who was behind it, stood by the claims.

“Mr. Asencio being physically abusive toward a child is 100 percent true,’’ he said. “...There is never any excuse for any school official to put a finger on a child, much less for being ‘disrespectful.’ No parent would accept having their child grabbed by the neck by anyone. Physical and abusive behavior toward a child is unacceptable. Period. End of story.” Story here.