MIAMI (AP) – A past associate of former Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera will spend no more time in jail for violating federal campaign finance laws in a case that has identified the former congressman as an unindicted co-conspirator, a federal judge decided Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola sentenced Ana Alliegro to six months but gave her credit for time she's already served since her arrest in March in Nicaragua, where she had fled to avoid investigators. Scola also ordered her to serve six months of home detention and two years' probation.
Alliegro, 44, admitted helping illegally funnel about $80,000 to a previously unknown candidate in the 2012 Democratic primary for the 26th District House seat. Alliegro also implicated Rivera — prosecution papers identify him as "co-conspirator A" — but he has not been charged and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The goal, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill, was for the ringer candidate, Justin Sternad, to smear Democrat Joe Garcia in the primary in hopes of weakening him before the general election. But Garcia defeated Rivera for the House seat and is running for re-election against Republican Carlos Curbelo. Sternad received a seven-month sentence after pleading guilty and has also cooperated in the probe.
"There's a need for people to have trust and faith" in honest elections, Mulvihill said. "In this particular case, that trust was destroyed."
Scola said he had to take into account the role Alliegro had in the plot compared with Rivera's apparently greater leadership role and source of the money for Sternad. The judge suggested it was time for Rivera to take some responsibility.
"Some might call it sexism — the man should come forward and not let the woman do time," Scola said. "She wasn't really trying to help Mr. Sternad. She was trying to help Mr. Rivera."
Mulvihill said Alliegro has met twice with the FBI since pleading guilty to four campaign finance-related charges last month. Her attorney, John Bergendahl, said she is cooperating in the ongoing investigation.
"That process has started and is likely to continue," Bergendahl said.
Alliegro herself briefly spoke at the hearing, apologizing to South Florida voters for misleading them and taking responsibility for her crimes. She has worked as a GOP consultant in South Florida and once unsuccessfully ran for the state Legislature.
"What I did was wrong and I'm very sorry I did it," she said.
Her father, Anselmo Alliegro, told reporters outside the courthouse that Rivera has telephoned him a few times to ask about his daughter's well-being and noted they had been friends for about 14 years. Asked if Rivera should be charged, Anselmo Alliegro replied, "I don't work for the prosecutor."
Rivera, a former state lawmaker and longtime friend of current Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email seeking comment.