By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
The Federal Elections Commission will get another crack at holding former Miami congressman David Rivera accountable for his role in an infamous South Florida campaign scandal.
Miami U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke granted the FEC permission on Jan. 4 to reopen its civil case against Rivera and proceed with an amended lawsuit against the Republican accusing him of secretly funneling $55,601 to the 2012 primary election campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a ringer candidate who ran against Rivera’s eventual Democratic challenger, Joe Garcia.
Cooke’s order came five months after she dismissed the commission’s initial complaint seeking to sanction Rivera with more than $500,000 in fines for violating federal election law that prohibits contributions made in the name of another person.
Rivera did not respond to a Florida Bulldog message on his cellphone’s voicemail, which noted he was traveling out of the country. In a Sept. 27 Twitter post, however, he wrote, “Federal judge just dismissed FEC lawsuit against me. After eight year witch hunt from a corrupt prosecutor, Tom Mulvihill, the truth behind these baseless accusations is finally revealed. I always knew these false allegations would be exposed as politically-motivated fake news.”
Mulvihill, an assistant U.S. attorney in Fort Lauderdale, won criminal convictions in 2013 and 2014 against a pair of Rivera associates in the alleged campaign finance scheme. He did not immediately return a phone message at his office.
Rivera’s lawyer, Roy Jeffrey Kahn, told Florida Bulldog the FEC still has no case to make against his client. “They are making the same allegations, but trying to narrow it down to his conduct,” Kahn said. “They want to try to change the facts. I don’t know how they can do that in good faith.”
Greg Mueller, the FEC’s lead attorney in the Rivera case, did not respond to an email message seeking comment. Spokespersons for the commission were unavailable for comment since the press office was closed as a result of the partial federal government shutdown.
Lawsuit tossed in 2017
Cooke tossed the 2017 lawsuit based on a court ruling in Utah in another FEC civil case which determined that a former state attorney general did not violate the prohibition against illegal contributions when he assisted a prominent businessman to circumvent federal election laws and use straw donors to contribute to Republican federal candidates. Kahn successfully argued that Rivera also could not be held liable for illegal contributions his associates made to Sternad.
In its Oct. 22, 2018 motion to reopen the case, the FEC states an amended complaint would remove references to Rivera “helping and assisting” others violate campaign finance laws to alleging the ex-U.S. representative bears primary responsibility for making contributions in the name of another person to the 2012 Sternad campaign.
Sternad, a hotel administrator and relatively unknown candidate, ran in the 2012 Democratic primary for Florida’s 26th Congressional District, a seat Rivera won in 2010. According to the amended complaint, Rivera directed then-girlfriend and Miami-based political consultant Ana Sol Alliegro, to approach Sternad with an offer to help fund his campaign, to which the novice candidate agreed.
“Rivera then delivered cash to vendors providing services to the committee or arranged for cash he controlled to be delivered to vendors providing services to the [Sternad] campaign,” the FEC complaint states. “Rivera concealed these in-kind contributions by paying vendors in cash to produce and distribute materials for Sternad’s campaign.”
Paying in cash
By paying in cash, Rivera concealed his involvement in the Sternad campaign, the FEC alleges. He also used vendors from his previous campaigns to work on Sternad’s marketing materials.
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, according to the FEC. “Rivera took measures to conceal his involvement and the source of the contributions,” the amended complaint states. “The Rivera-supported Sternad campaign aided Rivera’s own election efforts by opposing Joe Garcia during his primary election.”
Garcia beat Sternad decisively and went on to defeat Rivera in the 2012 general election. Federal prosecutors opened a criminal case that ended with Sternad and Alliegro pleading guilty to breaking election laws. However, Rivera was never prosecuted and the statute of limitations ran out in 2017.
Rivera has twice attempted a return to public office and failed. In 2016 he lost a Florida State House seat by 53 votes to Democrat Robert Asencio. A year later, Rivera filed paperwork with the Florida Division of Elections as a candidate for the state’s 105th House District. However, he failed to qualify for the ballot.
The FEC’s court documents say that Rivera’s State House campaign raised $254,900, including a $150,000 personal loan.