Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Suspect in case of former U.S. Rep. David Rivera to be charged with campaign finance fraud

A former candidate under FBI investigation with former U.S. Rep David Rivera is scheduled to be charged Friday with federal crimes over his campaign finances, according to the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

The charges against Justin Lamar Sternad stem from an investigation by the Herald, which first found discrepancies in his congressional campaign finance reports last August.

The FBI then began investigating Sternad, whose reports could have concealed as much as $100,000 in services and mailers, some of which attacked a Democratic rival of Rivera, who is a Republican.

Sternad is scheduled to surrender Friday morning in federal court, charged with lying on his federal campaign reports to hide the source of secret money funneled into his run for congress. Sternad is also charged with conspiring with others as part of the alleged scheme to defraud the United States.

Sternad, cooperating with authorities, is expected to plead not guilty. His lawyer, Enrique "Rick" Yabor refused comment.

Though Rivera is a target of the investigation, his name is nowhere in the indictment of Sternad, a source told the Herald.

Sternad and two campaign vendors who performed work for him have talked to the FBI and a federal grand jury to describe Rivera's involvement in Sternad's mercurial bid for Congress, which ended Aug. 14 when he lost the Democratic primary to Joe Garcia, who later beat Rivera in the general election.

A close friend of Rivera's, Ana Alliegro, worked as Sternad's campaign manager and repeatedly delivered fat stacks of cash to Rapid Mail & Computer Service, owner John Borrero told the Herald, El Nuevo Herald and then the FBI.

Another vendor, Hugh Cochran of Campaign Data, told the Herald and FBI agents that he spoke with Rivera about running computer queries to identify voters to whom the different mailers were sent.

A third vendor, Expert Printing, produced the mailers but has refused to talk to the Herald.

Rivera has denied wrongdoing or the existence of a federal investigation. Rivera couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday.

Alliegro, who was supposed to talk to the FBI in September, skipped out on her meeting with federal agents and is rumored to be overseas. Initially, Alliegro's parents and lawyer didn't know her whereabouts. Now she has been in contact with them.

Without Alliegro's testimony, federal authorities could have trouble determining Rivera's actual links to the unreported stacks of cash that funded Sternad's campaign.

Sternad became a FBI target soon after a series of stories published in the Herald and El Nuevo Herald that raised questions about his campaign during the Democratic primary. Sternad had sent out at least a dozen well-designed mailers targeted to different types of voters: environmentalists, African-Americans, immigration hardliners and those with rural sentiments.

One of the mailers, sent to women, savaged Joe Garcia for his divorce. The mailer echoed a line of attack that originated with Rivera.

Garcia's campaign, which refused comment Thursday, found the sophisticated campaign work highly suspicious for a political newcomer with no name and little money. Sternad, a married father of five and employed at a Miami Beach hotel, had financial troubles in the past.

Yet, despite the expensive mailings, Sternad's campaign-finance reports at the time listed no campaign vendors and claimed he raised only $11,383.60, which wasn't nearly enough to cover the cost of the mailers through July.

After the campaign vendors told the Herald that many of Sternad's expenses were paid in cash and far exceeded the amounts listed in his reports, Sternad then claimed he loaned himself $64,356.70 — a huge sum whose assets were minimal.

"I did not previously report this loan because I was unaware of the final monetary obligation incurred by my campaign," Sternad wrote to the Federal Election Commission.

"I have now received invoices for the expenditures," he wrote, "and this amendment represents satisfaction of those invoices."

Experts say it's a federal crime to knowingly file false federal campaign finance reports. And those who willfully and knowingly file the documents cannot necessarily escape prosecution by amending the reports after the fact.

Sternad, when it was time to file his campaign close-out report, decided to do no more harm. He filed 17 blank pages with the FEC.

And Sternad took the extraordinary steps of invoking his right against self incrimination in an Oct. 19 letter.

"On counsel's advice, I invoke my rights under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States not to answer or submit the information requested on FEC Form 3, on the grounds that I may incriminate myself," Sternad wrote.

"Please refer all additional inquires to my attorney, Rick L. Yabor."

Soon, Sternad began cooperating with authorities. Sources say he never came directly into contact with Rivera. That was Alliegro's job. Alliegro reportedly referred to Rivera as "D.R." or as "The Gangster."

By the 2012 elections, Rivera had garnered a reputation as a bad-boy of Miami-Dade politics. He narrowly avoided a 52-count state indictment in an investigation of his personal and campaign finances.

The IRS, however, picked up where the state left off. It began examining Rivera in connection with a $500,000 contract from a dog-track, Magic City Casino, to run a pro-slot machine referendum in Miami-Dade County.

Rivera initially denied he was paid for his services. He later said the money, paid to his mother's company, was a loan so he was never really paid.

The cloud of investigations and Rivera's reversals ultimately helped doom his re-election in the newly drawn District 26 that stretches from Kendall to Key West. He lost to Garcia by nearly 11 percentage points in a district that the president, a Democrat, carried by about 7 points in November.

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei and El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Manny Garcia contributed to this report.

Suspect in case of former U.S. Rep. David Rivera to be charged with campaign finance fraud 02/21/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 9:14am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  2. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case

    Crime

    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
  5. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101