David Rivera Campaign Finance Ruling Rejected

TALLAHASSEE — A federal appeals court Monday tossed out a ruling that would have led to former Florida Congressman David Rivera getting hit with a $456,000 fine in a case involving alleged campaign-finance violations.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a district judge improperly granted summary judgment to the Federal Election Commission in the case, which involves allegations that Rivera, a Republican, secretly funneled money to try to undermine a Democratic rival in 2012.

The panel said U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who died last year, did not properly take into account testimony from Rivera and that “issues of fact” remain in the case. Granting summary judgment short-circuited a potential jury trial. The panel Monday sent the case back to district court for further proceedings.

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The long-running case stems from Rivera’s 2012 campaign for re-election to Congress. Rivera, of Miami, faced a challenge from Democrat Joe Garcia and was alleged to have provided money to help Justin Sternad, a candidate in the Democratic primary. Garcia ultimately won the primary and defeated Rivera.

The Federal Election Commission alleged that Rivera, who also is a former member of the Florida House, violated a law that bars contributions made in the names of other people.

In the summary judgment, issued in 2021, Cooke wrote that “Rivera initiated the scheme when he met with his associate, Ana Sol Alliegro and directed her to approach Sternad with an offer to provide financial support to his primary campaign. Alliegro did so, and Sternad accepted the offer. At Rivera’s supposed direction, Alliegro then spent the next few months acting as an intermediary, transmitting funds to Sternad, the Sternad (political) committee and the vendors providing services to that committee.”

Cooke refuted Rivera’s arguments that testimony by Alliegro should be rejected and pointed to testimony from other people, including Sternad.

“Accordingly, the testimonial evidence in this case establishes that Rivera orchestrated a scheme in which he made unlawful contributions in the name of another to the Sternad campaign for the purpose of undermining Joe Garcia’s campaign,” Cooke wrote. “Rivera accomplished this by using Alliegro and other third parties to make cash payments on behalf of the Sternad campaign. Additionally, the uncontested testimonial evidence adduced in this case shows that Rivera directed Sternad to file false reports with the FEC.”

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But Monday’s decision said Rivera argued that the district judge “erred in granting summary judgment because there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding questions that should be resolved by a jury.”

The panel found that Cooke “improperly discounted” testimony that Rivera gave in 2020 in a deposition and affidavits.

“Seeing that the heart of this dispute concerns whether Rivera made contributions in the name of others to Sternad’s campaign, we find the denials in the deposition and affidavits significant,” said the panel decision, shared by Judges Charles Wilson, Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa. “The district court’s ruling, considering this evidence, runs contrary to the instructions provided (in a court rule), which state that summary judgment may only be granted where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.”

The panel also vacated a $456,000 fine that Cooke imposed against Rivera. A court docket indicates that the case has been reassigned at the lower court to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon.

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