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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — The federal investigation into former Congressman David Rivera took another major step Wednesday when his close friend and political ally was sentenced for her role in allegedly helping him break campaign finance laws.

“I took responsibility,” Ana Alliegro said in court before she was sentenced to six months of house arrest and two years of probation after serving six months in jail.

“I owe the voters of Florida … a huge apology,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola indicated he would have sentenced Alliegro to more time in prison — at least 18 months total and as much as five years — if she had gone “rogue” and not coordinated with Rivera.

Scola suggested Rivera wasn’t acting like a man.

“Some might call it sexism, (but) the man should come forward and not let the woman do time,” Scola said.

Scola pointedly insisted that Rivera be named in open court.

Alliegro last month made a surprise admission of guilt in open court and named Rivera as the mastermind of the 2012 scheme to steer more than $81,000 to a political unknown to help fund fliers and other items to campaign against the Republican’s rival, current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

“Those fliers were designed by Ana Alliegro (and) David Rivera,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mulvihill said in court, implicitly citing prior statements Alliegro had made to prosecutors. Before that disclosure in court, Rivera had denied wrongdoing and falsely claimed he was never under investigation. Rivera couldn’t be reached.

Court records and testimony indicate that Alliegro has told authorities that Rivera not only set the conspiracy in motion, but he also helped her flee the United States to Nicaragua when she was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors instead.

Alliegro was informally extradited to the United States in March and has been in jail ever since.

Her father, Anselmo Alliegro, said Rivera has been calling him. But, he said, Rivera needs to take responsibility.

“He says he’s concerned about her well-being,” Alliegro said of Rivera’s calls to him.

Alliegro is the second person convicted in the case. Her co-conspirator, no-name former Democratic candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in 2013 for accepting the illegal campaign contributions and making false statements about them when he ran as a Democrat in the 2012 primary against Garcia and others.

Garcia won that race and went on to wallop the scandal-plagued Rivera in the general election. In this election, however, federal investigators are now examining whether Garcia’s former top consultant and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation to the congressman), helped prop up yet another ringer candidate two years before in what appears to be a precursor to Sternad’s case.

Garcia has denied wrongdoing or knowledge of the crime and said he’d cooperate with prosecutors, and no witnesses have said he’s culpable — a stark contrast to Rivera’s case in which two campaign vendors told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald that the Republican was involved in the 2012 campaign finance scheme from the start.

Rivera tried to mount a comeback to run against Garcia this year. But the onetime political power broker, nagged by scandal and his repeated misstatements reported in the press, came in fourth place in a five-way GOP primary on Aug. 26.

Rivera received just 2,209 votes — which is 647 less than the no-name Sternad received just two years before when his campaign was propped up by illegal money.

Photo via WikiCommons

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