The latest federal investigation connected to Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) has taken another strange turn.
A key witness in a federal probe tied to the first-term Congressman disappeared last week, just before a scheduled meeting with prosecutors and the FBI. Her whereabouts remain unknown almost a week later.
According to The Miami Herald, prosecutors think Ana Alliegro, the now-missing witness, served as go-between for Rivera and an out-of-nowhere 2012 Democratic congressional primary candidate who initially failed to report tens of thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures. Last Wednesday, the day before she dropped off the map, federal agents raided Alliegro’s Miami apartment, taking away a computer and a cellphone, among other items.
Reached Monday, Alliegro’s lawyer, Mauricio Padilla, told TPM he had not heard from his client since last Wednesday and that he was “worried.” But he could neither confirm nor deny that a meeting with investigators had been scheduled last week, and declined to comment further.
Alliegro’s mother, Agueda “Guedy” Alliegro, told El Nuevo Herald on Friday that she was “very worried” about her daughter. But her tone had changed by Saturday, when the Miami Herald quoted the older Alliegro saying “everything is fine… I haven’t spoken to her, but she is OK.”
The Herald also reported over the weekend that Alliegro had met with Rivera himself on Wednesday. But in an unsigned statement emailed to TPM, Rivera’s campaign denied that such a meeting occurred.
“The Miami Herald’s supposed anonymous source for this allegation is wrong. This is yet another fraudulent use of supposed anonymous sources by the Miami Herald in order to further their desired narrative,” the statement said. “The Rivera for Congress campaign challenges the Miami Herald to provide any detail whatsoever regarding this fictitious meeting. Otherwise, they should retract the allegation immediately.”
Alliegro apparently acted as a campaign manager for Justin Lamar Sternad, a 35-year-old part-time hotel employee who challenged Joe Garcia for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 26th Congressional District. Sternad, a political newcomer, ran a mostly barebones campaign, and garnered 11 percent of the vote in the August 14 primary. A few days after the primary, however, the Herald reported that Sternad benefited from $46,000 in secret money used to fund a sophisticated mailer campaign — an effort Rivera helped “orchestrate and fund,” according to the newspaper, in which multiple payments of thousands of dollars were made via cash-stuffed envelopes.
Rivera and Sternad have denied being connected, and in the wake of the news stories Sternad updated his financial disclosure forms to show that he loaned his campaign nearly $64,000. (He had previously claimed that he had loaned his campaign nearly $11,000.)
Meanwhile, the Herald reports, an investigation has been “picking up speed,” with federal agents collecting evidence and conducting interviews in Florida, and with the participation of a federal grand jury.her Twitter page, Alliegro describes herself as the owner of a company called OnTarget Hispanic Marketing, Inc., as well as a “Republican Political Guru and Conservative Bad Girl!” Then there’s the fact that several pictures of Alliegro and Rivera together exist online.
According to the Herald, Alliegro had been scheduled to go before a federal grand jury Thursday, before her lawyer, Padilla, “worked out a deal to speak directly to lead prosecutor Thomas J. Mulvihill and two FBI agents.” But she vanished before that meeting took place.
On Monday, Rick Yabor, a lawyer for Sternard, said he knew why TPM was calling before a question had even been asked. He said he had “no idea where she is,” referring to Alliegro.
“My understanding is that her mom or someone in her family has spoken to her,” Yabor said.
Florida news outlets have noted that Yabor himself ran unsuccessfully for a County Judge seat this year, and paid Alliegro as a consultant.
Miami Democrats see all these developments as good news, politically.
“The conventional wisdom around town is that David is done,” Giancarlo Sopo, a Miami-based Democratic operative, told TPM in an email. Sopo once worked for Rivera’s opponent, Joe Garcia.
Jim Marshall, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Miami Division, said the the bureau did not provide any information to the Herald for the story that ran over the weekend, and he could not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation itself.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com