September 26, 2014

NRCC ad: Joe Garcia -- "another corruption scandal"

@MarcACaputo

Political ads come with a who-paid disclaimer. But they also should bear a viewer-beware warning.

So there are some caveats with the National Republican Campaign Committee's latest ad bashing Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia.

Much of the ad is true: Garcia's former campaign and congressional staffers are under investigation in both a state absentee-ballot-request fraud scandal and a campaign-finance crime. "Joe Garcia has only delivered more corruption," the ad says, showing a label that says "another corruption scandal."

But so far, Garcia isn't under investigation. No direct evidence points to him. He's not ducking the press. And he has been cooperative with authorities. That's to say, Garcia is not like former Republican Rep. David Rivera, whom the NRCC never attacked and who has been under multiple investigations. And while Rivera was in the sights of numerous investigators, Garcia's current challenger -- Republican Carlos Curbelo -- gave Rivera money.

Still, Garcia has explaining to do. He has a criminal defense lawyer. When you talk clean elections and the people running your elections machinery are doing dirty and potentially dirty deals, it's never helpful.

Former Rep. David Rivera's 'co-conspirator' wants indictments in Rep. Joe Garcia's camp

From the Facebook page of Ana Sol Alliegro, admitted 'co-conspirator' of former U.S. Rep David Rivera, in regards to potential criminal activity in the former campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia:

Since my release, I have received many interview request to tell my story. I hope that for the time being this statement will put to rest some of these inquires. I have already admitted that some of our actions were wrong and illegal. I will continue to pay for them. But I fail to comprehend what appears to be selective enforcement of those laws.

It is clear to me and others that I was prosecuted for the same exact actions in which current Congressman Joe Garcia's campaign was engaged a whole two years prior; the illegal recruitment and financing of a straw candidate in a general election.

Continue reading "Former Rep. David Rivera's 'co-conspirator' wants indictments in Rep. Joe Garcia's camp" »

September 19, 2014

In 'dirty deal' linked to David Rivera, judge reduces convict's prison sentence

@MarcACaputo

Justin Lamar Sternad wanted to go to Washington.

Instead, the former congressional candidate took the bus to Miami’s downtown federal courthouse on Friday to get his prison sentence reduced in a campaign-finance scheme tied to former U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

Still dressed in his working clothes after pulling an all-nighter graveyard shift at a local hotel, Sternad said he was thankful that a judge cut his prison sentence from seven months to 30 days with three month’s house arrest. He earned the reduction because of his remorse and substantial cooperation that helped prosecutors nab Rivera’s confidante, Ana Alliegro.

Rivera is the feds next target for indictment.

"I hope it's sooner than later," Sternad, a 37-year-old father of five, told a Miami Herald reporter when he was asked if he’d like to see the former congressman charged.

"I'm going to cooperate fully with the Department of Justice," Sternad said. Alliegro is also cooperating.

Rivera has denied wrongdoing ever since The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald began exposing the crime in the 2012 Democratic primary campaign for Congressional District 26.

Sternad, a no-name with no money, had filed to run for the office but quickly realized he needed cash. That’s when Alliegro, allegedly directed by Rivera, decided to approach him and offer him money – at least $81,000.

Sternad used the money to pay for various expenses, mailers and robo-calls to campaign against Rivera’s rival, Joe Garcia. Garcia went on to beat Sternad and others in the primary and then bested the Republican Rivera in the general election.

Rivera ran for reelection this year, but was soundly defeated in a GOP primary as the investigation grew closer to him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill credited Sternad for his help and moved the court to reduce his sentence. But, Mulvihill said, he still needed some jail time.

“It’s not as if he’s an innocent dupe,” said Mulvihill, who was compelled last week and in August by a judge to name Rivera as the mastermind of the conspiracy. 

Sternad’s lawyer, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, argued that his client should just receive house arrest. But he acknowledged Sternad did wrong, but at a certain point, he was in over his head.

“He admits his reaction was to stick his head in the sand,” Yabor said about Sternad’s mindset when it was clear he was breaking campaign-finance laws.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga was clearly sympathetic to Sternad. But she agreed with the prosecutor – that Sternad needed to do some jail time for the “dirty deal.”

Altonaga said he should receive a lighter sentence than Alliegro, who made the crime possible and had twice fled the United States to Nicaragua rather than cooperate with the feds. Alliegro last week was sentenced to six month's time served in jail and six more months of house arrest.

At Yabor’s request, she decided to delay the imposition of the sentence until Nov. 3.

That’s the day before Election Day, when Sternad had hoped two years ago that he’d be running for reelection and not slouching toward the federal Bureau of Prisons to be incarcerated.

First convict in David Rivera campaign-finance case asks for lighter sentence

@MarcACaputo

Federal prosecutors and the lawyer for the first conspirator convicted in a campaign-finance scheme linked to ex-congressman David Rivera will ask a judge Friday to reduce the man's sentence.

Justin Lamar Sternad was sentenced last year to seven months in prison for taking more than $81,000 in illegal campaign contributions, which Rivera allegedly steered to him in a failed 2012 congressional bid.

Sternad hasn’t yet served his sentence. And his lawyer, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, says the former hotel-desk worker and father of five should get more credit for helping investigators, who used his information to nab a friend of Rivera’s in the conspiracy.

Continue reading "First convict in David Rivera campaign-finance case asks for lighter sentence" »

September 10, 2014

Miami federal judge to David Rivera: Act like a man

@MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei

Before David Rivera’s confidante was sentenced in a campaign-finance scheme on Wednesday, a federal judge had some advice from the bench for the former Miami congressman: Act like a man.

“Some people would call it chivalry, some people call it sexism — that the man should come forward and not let the woman do time on his behalf,” said U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, who gave Rivera’s friend, Ana Alliegro, a one-year sentence split between six months she had already spent in jail and six months of house arrest.

Alliegro, who will also be on probation for two years, was released from custody a couple of hours later. She walked out of the downtown federal detention center alone, wearing brown prison garb, and tried to find the way on foot to her defense attorneys’ office.

She wouldn’t talk about Rivera, though she would be the key witness if prosecutors charge the Republican with the same crime. When asked by reporters why she stood by him for so long, Alliegro said: “It’s just the way I am.”

“I’m enjoying the weather, and I’m just looking forward to my future,” she said. “I intend to be a good member of society.”

The judge could have given Alliegro a stiffer sentence but suggested he was being lenient because she wasn’t acting by herself, in “rogue” fashion, and instead was a pawn in what federal prosecutors say was Rivera’s conspiracy.

More here.

As feds draw closer, David Rivera's confidante to be sentenced today

@MarcACaputo

The federal investigation into former congressman David Rivera takes another major step today when his close friend and political ally is scheduled to be formally sentenced for her role in allegedly helping him break campaign finance laws.

Ana Alliegro last month made a surprise admission of guilt in open court and named Rivera as the mastermind of the 2012 scheme to steer more than $81,000 to a political unknown to help fund fliers and other items to campaign against the Republican’s rival, current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

“Those fliers were designed by Ana Alliegro [and] David Rivera,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mulvihill said in court, implicitly citing prior statements Alliegro had made to prosecutors.

Before that disclosure in court, Rivera had denied wrongdoing and falsely claimed he was never under investigation. Rivera couldn’t be reached.

Court records and testimony indicate that Alliegro has told authorities that Rivera not only set the conspiracy in motion, but he also helped her flee the United States to Nicaragua when she was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors instead.

Alliegro in March was informally extradited to the United States and has been in jail ever since. Now that she’s cooperating, Alliegro could be sentenced to just six more months in jail, or even house arrest.

Alliegro is the second conviction in the case. Her co-conspirator, no-name former Democratic candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in 2013 for accepting the illegal campaign contributions and making false statements about them when he ran as a Democrat in the 2012 primary against Garcia and others.

Garcia won that race and went on to wallop the scandal-plagued Rivera in the general election. In this election, however, federal investigators are now examining whether Garcia's former top consultant and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation to the congressman) helped prop up yet another ringer candidate two years before in what appears to be a pre-cursor to Sternad's case.

Rep. Garcia has denied wrongdoing, said he'd cooperate with prosecutors and no witnesses have said he's culpable -- a stark contrast to Rivera's case in which two campaign vendors told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald that the Republican was involved in the 2012 campaign-finance scheme from the start. Based on the Herald reports, the FBI began examining the case.

With the two convictions and what appears to be a wealth of evidence and testimony against Rivera, Miami’s political and legal worlds have been abuzz with word of Rivera’s imminent indictment.

But Rivera, who has survived a prior federal investigation and a separate state investigation into his finances, has avoided indictments in the past. A Tallahassee judge, however, recently sided with state ethics commission prosecutors and found that he broke state ethics laws over how he managed campaign and taxpayer money as a state legislator.

Rivera is appealing. The ethics commission has yet to rule on the case.

But voters have rendered their verdict.

Rivera tried to mount a comeback to run against Garcia this year. But the one-time political power broker, nagged by scandal and his repeated misstatements reported in the press, came in fourth place in a five-way GOP primary on Aug. 26.

Rivera received just 2,209 votes – which is 647 less than the no-name Sternad received just two years before when his campaign was propped up by illegal money.

August 26, 2014

Carlos Curbelo wins Miami GOP congressional primary, will face Joe Garcia

@PatriciaMazzei

Carlos Curbelo, a longtime political insider and former aide to a U.S. senator, won a decisive Republican primary victory Tuesday to run for Congress himself.

He received 47 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates that included a scandal-plagued former congressman vying for his old seat. Ex-U.S. Rep. David Rivera came in fourth place.

Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member, now faces the far more difficult task of running against incumbent Joe Garcia, a Democrat who was elected two years ago to represent the swing 26th congressional district that extends from Westchester to Key West.

The closely watched race among Republicans and Democrats nationwide is considered a tossup. Republicans hope to flip it to their column come the Nov. 4 general election.

“I will work hard to honor your trust,” Curbelo told campaign supporters gathered Tuesday night at Killian Palms in Kendall. “I will serve with honor and integrity. We live in a community that needs new leaders.”

More here.

August 24, 2014

Ex-Rep. David Rivera: A parent's nightmare

@MarcACaputo

David Rivera isn’t just a scandal-plagued ex-lawmaker and current congressional candidate.

Rivera is also a parent’s nightmare.

Last week, that awful truth came home to the parents of Ana Alliegro, a 44-year-old political operative who has been sitting in jail for almost six months over a campaign-finance conspiracy that, she admitted Tuesday, was hatched by Rivera.

“If Rivera was indeed her friend, he should have come forth long ago to accept or refute the allegations,” Alliegro’s father, Anselmo Alliegro, wrote in the comments section of a local legal blog.

“She has suffered enough expecting Rivera to come [to] her defense,” he wrote. “A person that shows such callous disregard for a friend’s sacrifice does not deserve loyalty.”

To call Ms. Alliegro “loyal” is an understatement. She was more like a cult adherent to Rivera. Yes, she willingly broke the law, but she was also under his thrall.

The devotion to Rivera, at least at first, was somewhat understandable. He’s charming. Funny. Smart. Hardworking. Powerful. He also has a few media apologists, mainly Spanish-language, who praise him or attack anyone who questions him.

For Alliegro, Rivera implicitly promised political and social status. He also could get his hands on lots of money.

More here

August 19, 2014

David Rivera named co-conspirator when friend pleads guilty to campaign-finance violations

@MarcACaputo @jayhweaver @PatriciaMazzei

Miami congressional candidate and ex-U.S. Rep. David Rivera was officially named as a co-conspirator Tuesday in federal court when his friend and confederate pleaded guilty to criminal campaign-finance violations.

That defendant, Ana Alliegro, didn’t name Rivera — that was done by a federal prosecutor at the urging of a judge who wanted to know the identity of a man previously identified only as a “co-conspirator.”

According to prosecutors, that person, along with Alliegro, secretly funded the 2012 Democratic primary campaign of ringer candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, who has been sentenced to seven months in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill initially declined to name Rivera, but then did so at the direction of U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.

Alliegro’s trial had been scheduled to Monday — a day before the Republican primary election for Florida’s 26th congressional district. Rivera, one of five candidates on the ballot, is running for his old seat.

In a surprise move, Alliegro, who had pleaded not guilty to four charges in March, used a pre-trial court appearance Tuesday to switch her plea to guilty.

More here.

August 17, 2014

FL-26 Republicans tussle in TV faceoff

@PatriciaMazzei

Five Republicans jostling for their party’s nomination to run against Congressman Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, faced off Sunday perhaps for the last time before the Aug. 26 primary election.

The two candidates who have tussled the most -– Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo and Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall –- pointedly went after each other in their appearance on WPLG-ABC 10’s This Week in South Florida.

MacDougall's strategy has been to try to topple Curbelo, the presumed frontrunner in the race, in an apparent effort to split the Hispanic vote enough among the four Hispanic candidates to leave MacDougall as the winner. He accused Curbelo of being untrustworthy because he won’t disclose his media and public relations firm’s clients.

“He regulates hundreds of millions of dollars for the school board,” MacDougall said. “Why is this not coming out?”

Curbelo called the jab “frivolous,” saying he discloses what he’s required to by law. He put his firm, Capitol Gains, in his wife Cecilia’s name in 2009, citing advice from U.S. Senate attorneys. At the time, Curbelo was an aide to former Florida Republican Senator George LeMieux.

Continue reading "FL-26 Republicans tussle in TV faceoff" »