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Records don't back South Florida GOP House candidate David Rivera's job history

MIAMI — Over the past seven years, Republican state Rep. David Rivera repeatedly said in sworn documents that his main source of income, outside of his salary from the legislature, came from consulting work he did for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

But USAID has no record of ever hiring Rivera, now a candidate for Congress, or his company.

"We do not have Mr. Rivera nor the corporations you referred to in our records," USAID press officer Annette Aulton told the Miami Herald in an e-mail.

When asked about his work with USAID, Rivera gave conflicting explanations, first saying he won the USAID contracts through competitive bidding, but later saying he worked only as a subcontractor to other USAID contractors whom he would not identify.

Rivera listed USAID as a source of income in financial-disclosure forms filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics from 2003 to 2009. In the documents, required of all elected officials, Rivera said he worked for USAID through a Puerto Rican company called Interamerican Government Relations, performing "international development consulting."

Rivera told the Herald that he started the company with a partner he would not name. Corporate documents in Puerto Rico show only the existence of the company, but does not name the principals.

For the past four years, USAID was the only additional source of income reported by Rivera, aside from his $30,000 annual salary from the Legislature. Since 2003, Rivera has not disclosed how much money he earned from his consulting work, although state ethics rules require lawmakers to report any annual income over $1,000.

Violations of state ethics laws can lead to civil fines.

After initially agreeing to an interview, Rivera declined to speak with reporters for this story, and he would only respond to written questions.

The Herald first began making inquiries about Rivera's USAID work last month while researching the backgrounds of congressional candidates. USAID is a federal agency that offers aid to developing countries, and its budget is approved by Congress.

On Sept. 21, The Herald asked Rivera if he obtained USAID contracts through competitive bidding or through a no-bid award. Three days later, Rivera said his company won the USAID contracts through competitive bidding.

But last week, after learning that USAID had no record of his company, Rivera said he misunderstood the questions, and said he only worked for USAID as a subcontractor to other companies. USAID does not keep records of subcontractors hired by its vendors, Aulton said.

However, Rivera would not provide the names of any USAID contractors for which he worked. Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Rivera's campaign, said Rivera could not release any information about his contracts without the approval of his clients.

Rivera also could not provide tax returns or other records verifying his USAID consulting work because he was too busy campaigning for Congress, Bascom said.

"Mr. Rivera is not going to take time away from campaigning during the day with voters to be stuck in his garage sifting through boxes," she said.

Rivera listed USAID as a consulting client from 2003 to 2009 in sworn financial disclosure forms filed with the state. State ethics rules require lawmakers to publicly disclose any "customer, client or other source of income'' that provides more than 10 percent of the total income of the lawmaker's private business.

The disclosure requirement is designed to alert the legislature and the public to potential conflicts of interest, said Kerrie Stillman, spokeswoman for the state Ethics Commission.

Bascom said Rivera listed only USAID on his disclosure forms because that was the ''source'' of his income. Rivera has "fully complied with all state and federal disclosure requirements," she said.

Rivera's campaign said his consulting work for USAID overseas focused on "activities to strengthen the rule of law and respect for human rights'' and to "promote more genuine and competitive elections."

As examples of Rivera's development work, the campaign provided the Herald with travel records of three trips Rivera took to Mexico and Chile in 2005 and 2008. These documents were partially redacted by Rivera to omit personal information of USAID contractors and employees, Bascom said, "as well as information that may be considered classified or sensitive."

But the three trips cited by Rivera were not organized by USAID, nor were they tied to a government consulting contract or development work, the Herald learned.

In fact, Rivera traveled to Mexico and Chile as a guest of the U.S. State Department under its International Information Program, which sends scores of American politicians and academics overseas to give speeches and attend conferences, said Leslie Phillips, a State Department spokeswoman.

For example, Rivera and an Illinois state representative traveled to Guadalajara in February 2008 to speak about the U.S. elections that year. A newsletter of a Mexican elections organization published a photo of Rivera receiving a framed certificate at the event.

Phillips said Rivera "was simply traveling as a private citizen," not as a contractor or consultant to the U.S. government. The State Department paid Rivera's travel expenses and gave him an honorarium of $200 per day, she said.

After the Herald informed Rivera's campaign that the trips were not related to a USAID contract, Bascom said Rivera offered the travel records to illustrate the type of work he did, not as evidence that he worked with USAID.

Rivera's campaign said Interamerican Government Relations has not been an active company since 2008. But in his most recent state disclosure form, signed on June 12, Rivera said he earned money from USAID through the company in 2009. In a separate federal disclosure form, filed June 22 with the U.S. House of Representatives, Rivera did not mention the company or USAID when describing his 2009 finances.

Bascom said Rivera did not mention the USAID work in the federal filing because the disclosure requirements are different.

Rivera, of Miami, leaves the legislature this year as the budget chief in the House and as one of the state's most powerful lawmakers. He is now in a hotly contested race with Miami Democrat Joe Garcia in the 25th Congressional District, which stretches from Miami-Dade across the Everglades to include parts of Naples.

Since he was first elected to the state House in 2002, Rivera has described himself as a "public affairs consultant." But in his disclosure forms, he listed only six clients over eight years, including USAID.

Rivera also reported working from 2003 to 2005 for a company called Object Video, which once had a security contract at Miami International Airport. In his state disclosures, Rivera said he was paid for that consulting work through a company called Millennium Marketing, records show.

In response to questions from the Herald, Rivera described Millennium not as an employer but as a "former client'' he helped with "marketing and public relations client development."

In 2000, Rivera's mother, Daisy Magarino, founded a company called Millennium Marketing Strategies, but it dissolved a year later, state records show.

In 2006, a woman named Ileana Medina founded another company called Millennium Marketing Inc. Rivera's mother joined that company in 2008, records show. Medina also has notarized several of Rivera's financial disclosure forms filed with the state.

Magarino and Medina could not be reached for comment.

Rivera paid $30,000 in campaign funds to Millennium Marketing in 2006, records show. One $15,000 payment, made two days after Millennium Marketing was created, was for ''campaign consulting," and another $15,000 was for a "thank you campaign," according to Rivera's campaign records. Rivera faced no opponent that year.

Bascom said Rivera's mother was not part of the company when it worked with his campaign. She said Millennium coordinated a multi-media effort, and the campaign payments were ''statutorily allowed."

Miami Herald researcher Monika Leal contributed to this story.

Records don't back South Florida GOP House candidate David Rivera's job history 10/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 9:22pm]
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