Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

David Rivera ran secret campaign, candidate tells FBI

MIAMI — Justin Lamar Sternad, whose failed campaign became the subject of a federal grand-jury investigation, has told the FBI that U.S. Rep. David Rivera was secretly behind his run for office, according to the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

Sternad, 35, also told authorities that his campaign manager, Ana Sol Alliegro, acted as the conduit between the campaign and Rivera, who allegedly steered unreported cash to the Democrat's campaign, the Herald reported.

Sternad said Alliegro referred to the congressman by his initials, "D.R.," and called him by the nickname, "the Gangster."

"We will respond when these so-called "sources' are willing to go on the record," said attorney Michael R. Band, who represents Rivera. "We are not going to respond to unfounded rumors and innuendo. My client is in the middle of an election and it's unfair for us to be shadow-boxing with unnamed sources."

Sternad's account to federal authorities supports what two campaign vendors told the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald: that the congressman was the driver behind a botched attempt to plant a candidate in the District 26 congressional primary.

Sternad has acknowledged to the feds that he never met Rivera, the Herald reported, a point that the Republican congressman has long claimed.

But Sternad — using Facebook and Twitter — found pictures of Alliegro and Rivera together and determined that Rivera was the mystery "investor" so enthralled with his candidacy. But the political newcomer — a night-time hotel worker — said he continued with the scheme because Alliegro told him that "D.R." would get him a better job to support his wife and five kids if he lost.

Now, instead of a better job, Sternad is facing a possible indictment.

Sternad declined comment on Tuesday, referring calls to his attorney, Enrique "Rick" Yabor, who also declined to comment.

Sternad's cooperation comes at a time when Alliegro has disappeared from public view after promising her lawyer and federal authorities to give a truthful statement of what transpired almost three weeks ago. Her lawyer still has not heard from her. Sternad's statement also contradicts Rivera's claim that he had nothing to do with his campaign.

During the Democratic primary Joe Garcia — who previously lost to Rivera in the general election — complained that Sternad, a political unknown, was a ringer plopped into the congressional race by Rivera.

On Aug. 15, an El Nuevo Herald reporter went to Rapid Mail & Computer Services to ask how Sternad — who had $120.97 in the bank and reported raising less than $11,400 — could have paid for a dozen costly mailings, which were targeted in a sophisticated way to different types of voters. Rapid Mail's owner, John Borrero, said the dozen mailers were paid for almost entirely in cash. One mailer, totaling $9,000, was paid for by check through a third-party printing company, he said. Another vendor, Campaign Data, said Rivera had ordered the voter data, which was used for the Sternad mailings.

After the story ran in the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, Rapid Mail employees said Alliegro stormed into the Hialeah warehouse and screamed: "Did you read the story? You got to get rid of everything. The s--t hit the fan! I got to calm down David and Lamar. This is bad!"

Borrero refused to destroy records, and instead turned everything over to Miami-Dade Public Corruption detectives and two FBI agents who separately contacted him.

Sternad — with help from Alliegro — amended his financial reports to show he loaned himself $53,000 more than he initially reported. The source of the funds remains a mystery, considering Sternad's $30,000 annual salary and modest investments. Sternad has told authorities that he suspects much of the money came from Rivera.

Sternad retained Yabor and has been cooperating with the government. By giving testimony to the FBI, Sternad hopes for leniency from a federal judge. He has not been charged, but he could face felony counts for intentionally filing false paperwork, conspiring to do so and fraudulently accepting laundered money.

He acknowledged accepting more than $10,000 that was deposited into his campaign account at TD Bank in Cutler Bay. He told authorities he did not know the source of the deposit.

Despite such a red flag — and the fact that he had little money — Sternad plodded on with the ruse, in hopes of somehow winning. He did well for an unknown, garnering 11 percent of the vote with scant campaigning other than the mailers.

"Thanks to all my supporters and the people that voted for me during this Primary Election,'' Sternad wrote on his Facebook page after he lost.

Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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