As he seeks to jump from the Legislature to Congress, Republican state Rep. David Rivera is fighting off a nasty attack from his GOP rivals — an allegation that he was accused of domestic violence in the 1990s.
One of Rivera's opponents in the Republican primary, Paul Crespo, has raised the issue on a website. Another opponent, Marili Cancio, repeated the allegations in a television interview earlier this month.
Rivera denies he was ever accused of domestic violence — a charge first raised in 2002, during his first political campaign. In a written statement to the Miami Herald, Rivera slammed his opponents for trying to "libel, slander and defame my character."
The allegation arises from a 1994 petition for a domestic-violence restraining order filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against one David M. Rivera. The court file has been destroyed — by law, family court files are not retained after five years — along with any details or additional identifying information. Only a computer record of the docket is available today.
The restraining order was dropped after a month, and no criminal charges were filed, records show. But inconsistencies in Rivera's responses to the claim in years past and today have helped make it a campaign issue heading into the Aug. 24 Republican primary, a Miami Herald/WFOR-CBS 4 review has found.
"The 1994 case has absolutely nothing to do with me. I am not the David Rivera in that case and to suggest otherwise is a blatant and shameful lie," Rivera said in his statement.
Rivera — whose middle name is Mauricio — also said that he has never met the woman who made the 1994 complaint, Jenia Dorticos. Dorticos, who now lives in New York, gave a sworn statement to Rivera's attorneys saying she does not know the politician, and that he was not the target of her complaint.
However, a Miami woman who says she is friendly with Dorticos' brother told the Herald that Rivera and Dorticos came to her home as a couple to attend a dinner party about 10 years ago. Dorticos' mother also once worked on one of Rivera's political campaigns, records show. Rivera and Dorticos deny attending the party.
Rivera declined to be interviewed for this story, and his campaign would discuss the matter only through questions submitted in writing.
Cancio has publicly criticized Rivera for changing his explanation of the domestic-violence issue. "In 2002, his version was that it was a misunderstanding," Cancio said on Noticias GenTV. "What is happening (now) is another lie where he says they don't know each other."
Crespo has raised similar complaints about Rivera. "If the issue of domestic violence is true, it is a serious issue," Crespo said. "As serious as his pattern of deception." (Crespo himself was accused of domestic violence in 1993 — dismissed for no just cause — and he was arrested for resisting arrest in a 2000 traffic stop, records show.)
In Rivera's first campaign for the Florida House, in 2002, the domestic-violence complaint was highlighted by his opponent in the Republican primary, Rainier "Ray'' Gonzalez. Just days before the primary vote, Gonzalez distributed a flier including an image of Dorticos' restraining-order petition. Also on the flier: A picture of Rivera alongside an image of an unidentified woman — not Dorticos — with a black eye.
"Reject Domestic Violence — Reject David Rivera," said the advertisement. Gonzalez declined to comment for this story.
To counter Gonzalez's mailer, Rivera's 2002 campaign produced its own flier — an ad featuring a photo of Dorticos and a statement defending Rivera under her purported signature.
The text next to Dorticos' photo reads: "David Rivera has never harmed me! NEVER!''
A copy of the Rivera flier with the photo of Dorticos was obtained by Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4. The ad says it was paid for and approved by Rivera's campaign.
Responding to questions from the Herald, Rivera's current campaign spokesperson, Sarah Bascom, said Rivera "does not recall'' the flier with Dorticos' photo. Al Lorenzo, a campaign consultant who worked on Rivera's 2002 campaign, remembers a counter flier was prepared — though he says he did not see it, and he advised Rivera at the time not to respond to the domestic-violence accusation.
Lorenzo also said the campaign discussed recruiting Dorticos to defend Rivera in a radio ad.
"I know that I was told that she was willing to come or do whatever to do to clear the air," Lorenzo said. In a later interview, however, he backtracked, saying they only discussed radio ads generally, without getting into detail about Dorticos.
Around the time the Gonzalez flier was produced, Rivera was involved in a collision with a truck on the Palmetto Expressway — a truck carrying Gonzalez's attack ads to the post office to be mailed to voters.
On Sept. 6, 2002 — four days before the primary election — Rivera's Nissan collided with the truck owned by Liberty Mailing, according to a crash report from the Florida Highway Patrol. Liberty handled bulk mailing for both the Rivera and Gonzalez campaigns at the time.
Bascom said the fender-bender occurred as Rivera was trying to retrieve a batch of his own mailers from the truck, and that he was not trying to interfere with his opponent's mailers. "David did not run a mail truck off the road," she said.
Rivera was collecting his mailers because he was upset that Liberty was also working for his opponent, and he feared Liberty would not deliver his mail as promised, Bascom said. She said the Liberty truck struck Rivera's car as they pulled back onto the highway.
A former Rivera campaign aide, Ralph Perez, told the Herald he picked up the mailers from the truck on the highway, but he could not recall any more details about the incident.
Liberty's current owners tell a different story. Richard Sierra, president of Hialeah-based Dodd Communications, which now owns Liberty, said Rivera never complained about the company's work, nor did Rivera remove any mailers from the Liberty truck — which contained both Rivera's mailers and his opponent's.
"That doesn't make sense," Sierra said. "Whatever was on the truck was mailed. Nothing was taken off the truck."
"We have never had a complaint," Sierra added.
Sierra said Rivera's car hit the mail truck — which Rivera's campaign denied. According to the FHP report, the driver blamed Rivera for the collision, and Rivera said the truck struck his car, causing $400 in damage.
Lawyer Juan Judas Cordero told WFOR-CBS 4 that Rivera summoned him to the accident scene because Rivera "needed an attorney'' — but Cordero would not say why he was called to the fender-bender, citing attorney-client privilege. Bascom said Cordero arrived "in case'' a lawyer was needed, but that Cordero did not represent Rivera or the campaign.
Rivera ultimately defeated Gonzalez in that 2002 primary by just 238 votes, and the domestic-violence allegation faded away — until it was recently raised again by his challengers in the congressional race.
But Dorticos, the woman who filed that 1994 complaint, insists that Rivera's opponents have it wrong. In both an interview with the Herald and a sworn statement obtained by Rivera's campaign, she denied knowing David M. Rivera, the lawmaker.
"I don't know David Rivera," said Dorticos, 43. "Not the politician."
Dorticos would not identify the David M. Rivera she named in her 1994 complaint, however. And she could not explain how Rivera's campaign obtained a photograph of her in 2002, though she said she may have been contacted by the Rivera camp at the time.
Rivera's attorneys did not ask Dorticos to identify the David M. Rivera named in her domestic-violence complaint, Bascom said. "Out of respect for the sensitivity of the issue, we won't pry further into her life," she said.
Dorticos' mother, popular Cuban TV personality Hilda Rabilero, is friendly with Rivera, and she was once paid $500 to work as a translator for Rivera's 2006 campaign. Through his spokesperson, Rivera said he had no recollection of hiring Rabilero.
Rivera also was recently photographed with Rabilero at a fundraiser — the photos were recently removed from Rivera's Facebook page.
"Jenia doesn't know David," Rabilero told the Herald. However, she also said her daughter never filed any request for a restraining order — though Dorticos indeed did.
A Miami woman, Alejandra Diaz, said Dorticos and Rivera do know each other. Diaz, who says she is friends with Dorticos' brother Raul, said Rivera and Dorticos attended a small dinner party at her Venetian Islands house, as did Rabilero.
"Why does he say he doesn't know her?" said Diaz, who now lives in Coconut Grove. ''The truth always comes out."
Rabilero denies attending any party. So does Raul Dorticos, who provided a sworn statement to Rivera's campaign on Aug. 17 saying he did not know Diaz, and repeating that his sister does not know Rivera. But when asked in an earlier Miami Herald interview if his sister knew Rivera, Raul Dorticos said: "I seriously don't know," adding that he lived in Cuba in 1994.
Rivera says he was not living in Miami at the time of the alleged dinner party at Diaz's home, and said Diaz is part of an "obvious hoax."
Miami Herald staff writers Jennifer Lebovich and Rob Barry and researcher Monika Leal contributed to this report. Freelance writer Kevin Deutsch contributed from New York.