Former Florida Representative David Rivera was detained by federal officials on Monday in connection with an ongoing investigation into his contacts with Venezuela’s totalitarian leadership. Throughout his protracted political and consultancy career, Rivera had successfully evaded numerous inquiries.
In connection with a Miami grand jury indictment handed down last month, Rivera, who served as a representative for a district in the Miami region from 2011 to 2013, was held in Georgia on Wednesday. The Associated Press was the first to report on his arrest. Rivera and his former political strategist Esther Nuhfer are accused of conspiring against the United States, failing to register as foreign agents, and participating in illicit financial activities, including money laundering, according to the indictment unsealed on Monday night.
The 34-page indictment states that the conspiracy’s goal was for the defendants to “illegally enrich themselves by engaging in political activities in the United States on behalf of the government of Venezuela, by advancing the interests of the government of Venezuela before officials of the United States government, and to influence United States foreign policy.”
Before entering Congress for a brief time, Rivera was the powerful budget leader in the legislature. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who formerly lived with him in Tallahassee, counted him as an ally. After leaving office, Rivera kept in touch with numerous GOP leaders and went to the recent one-day meeting where the Florida Legislature chose its new leaders.
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Simon Ferro, Rivera’s defense lawyer, did not answer a phone seeking comment. Despite working for Venezuela’s state-owned oil corporation, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., Rivera has previously faced criticism for failing to register as a foreign agent. That business recruited Rivera’s company, Interamerican Consultancy, to offer consulting services to the nation’s state-owned oil corporation.
The Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. would compel Rivera to register as a foreign agent for any job he performed for them. However, the American division of Petróleos de Venezuela sued Rivera, saying he had performed little to no work and demanded the return of the $15 million it had given to his company.
According to the indictment, Rivera and Nuhfer were sought out beginning in 2017, shortly after former President Donald Trump assumed office, to assist in lobbying lawmakers on behalf of Venezuela and garner support for mending ties between the United States and the nation led by strongman Nicolas Maduro.
The indictment makes mention of meetings that were set up with a Texas congressman and a Florida senator as part of the scheme to win favor on behalf of Venezuela. The congressman has already been named as former Rep. Pete Sessions in earlier reports. The senator’s name is not included in the indictment, but Rubio was a key adviser to the Trump administration on its interactions with Latin American nations.
According to the indictment, the Florida senator attended two meetings in July 2017 in Washington, D.C., to negotiate a potential agreement with the Maduro government in which he would accept a deal to “hold free and fair elections in Venezuela.”
At one point, Rivera sent those participating in the attempt an encrypted text message in which he said that the senator would be meeting with Trump the following day and that he would “inform him that he has the possibility in his hands to solve the situation.” In texts they exchanged, Rivera and the senator urged for “no revenge, reconciliation” and for the U.S. to “help, not just support, a negotiated settlement.”
Later, Rivera said in an encrypted text that the Florida senator had called to inform him that Maduro needed to “provide guarantees for the December election.” The indictment claims that Maduro eventually declined to pledge free and fair elections, and no further mention of any discussion with a senator is made.
In response to a request for comment after Rivera’s indictment, Rubio’s office did not respond right away. After losing the 2012 election in a campaign that ultimately led to a federal probe, Rivera resigned from Congress. Democratic candidate Justin Sternad and co-defendant Ana Alliegro later admitted planning to secretly contribute more than $70,000 to Sternad’s primary campaign to undermine Joe Garcia, another Democratic candidate.
Garcia and Rivera had a confrontation in 2010, and Rivera viewed Garcia as a fierce rival. However, in 2012, Garcia defeated Rivera in their second contest by winning the Democratic primary and the general election.
The IRS and FBI started looking into Rivera’s involvement in a covert consulting agreement between a dog track, Magic City Casino, and a marketing firm registered in his mother’s name in 2011, a year before the campaign finance incident.
Due to Rivera’s failure to properly disclose his income and his double billing of taxpayers for travel expenses while he was a legislator, the Florida Commission on Ethics recommended that Rivera pay nearly $58,000 in fines in 2019. However, at the time, Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, chose not to do so.