Here’s where things stand for former longshot congressional candidate and current FBI target Justin Lamar Sternad: after he and his attorney conferred with federal prosecutors and an Federal Election Commission expert, Sternad submitted a blank 17-page document as his October quarterly report to the FEC, then subsequently sent the agency a letter invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.
“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 in the letter, dated Oct. 19. but filed with the FEC on Thursday. “Please refer all additional inquires to my attorney, Rick L. Yabor.”
Sternad lost to Democrat Joe Garcia in an August primary in Florida’s 26th Congressional District. A hotel worker and political novice, Sternad managed to attract 11 percent of the vote. But he subsequently attracted the attention of The Miami Herald, which tied tens of thousands of dollars used to bolster Sternad’s campaign — and not initially disclosed to the FEC — to first-term Republican Rep. David Rivera (R-FL). The paper has since reported that Sternad is the focus of a federal investigation (and also flagged his latest filing with the FEC).
On Oct. 15, Sternad filed an FEC “Form 3” as his quarterly report, supposedly covering the period from July 1 to Sept. 30. But the “report of receipts and disbursements” includes no records of receipts or disbursements or, indeed, any financial information of any kind. On the first page of the form, Sternad signed his name below a statement that reads: “I certify that I have examined this Report and to the best of my knowledge and belief it is true, correct and complete.”
On Oct. 24, Sternad was sent a letter from the FEC, in which Jodi Winship, chief of the FEC Compliance Branch’s Reports Analysis Division, informs him that his committee failed to file its October quarterly report in an electronic format, and that his reporting obligations would not be satisfied until he did so.
“The failure to timely file this report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action,” Winship wrote.
It is unclear if this letter was sent before the FEC received Sternad’s Fifth Amendment-invoking letter.
Reports by the Herald over the past few months have suggested that Rivera had a hand in running Sternad’s campaign, and that the Sternad campaign’s robocalls and mailers echoed attack lines that Rivera has used against Garcia in the past.
Rivera and Sternad have denied being connected. But a friend of Rivera’s, Ana Alliegro, acted as Sternad’s campaign manager, and the Herald has reported that prosecutors believe she acted as a go-between for the Congressman and Sternad. In early September, Alliegro missed a scheduled meeting with prosecutors and the FBI, and has since remained out of public view.
Rivera has said that he has never been told he is under federal investigation.
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