Federal authorities said Monday that they had arrested a former Republican congressman on charges of conspiracy, failing to register as a foreign agent, and other offences. The man had been secretly hired for $50 million by Venezuela’s state-run oil company to promote the possibility of a thaw in relations between the United States and Venezuela in Washington.
Marlene Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, confirmed that former Florida Representative David Rivera was arrested by law authorities at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Mr. Rivera, a Cuban American and a well-known anti-communist in Florida politics, served in Congress from 2011 to 2013. He previously worked in the state legislature.
A federal indictment filed by a South Florida grand jury last month and unsealed on Monday alleges that Mr. Rivera and a longtime acquaintance, Esther Nuhfer, attempted to contact members of Congress and the White House on behalf of Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro, in 2017 and 2018.
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The indictment claims that Mr. Rivera received at least $23.75 million from the $50 million contract that his consulting firm, Interamerican Consulting, had signed with PDV USA, the American affiliate of the Venezuelan state oil corporation Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA, for lobbying efforts. Mr. Rivera subsequently divided the funds with Ms. Nuhfer and others who were not charged.
In violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer were indicted
According to the indictment, Rivera and Nuhfer “hid the existence of the consulting relationship with PDV USA and the millions of dollars they received to lobby on behalf of the government of Venezuela from public scrutiny and United States officials.”
Five counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to launder funds from criminal activity, one count of engaging in transactions involving property obtained through criminal activity, and one count of conspiracy to commit an offence against the United States were filed against Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer.
Money was used for “real estate purchases, payment of costs for luxury yachts, and, in Rivera’s case, contributions to his campaign account for state government,” according to the accusation against him and Nuhfer. In the 2018 election season, Mr. Rivera attempted to run for the Florida House of Representatives but was disqualified from doing so due to insufficient filing fees.
On Monday, Mr. Rivera’s attorney Jeffrey D. Feldman said it was “too soon” to comment. On Monday, a federal magistrate judge heard Mr. Rivera’s initial court appearance, according to Ms. Rodriguez.
57-year-old Mr. Rivera has been under scrutiny by state and federal authorities for unethical campaign practices, including surreptitiously funnelling money to a Democratic candidate to damage Mr. Rivera’s major challenger, for over a decade. Last year, the Federal Election Commission won a $465,000 judgement against Mr. Rivera in court. He avoided arrest until Monday.
In 2020, PDV USA filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Mr. Rivera in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, revealing his association with a left-wing Venezuelan administration widely despised in South Florida. After PDV USA sued him, Mr. Rivera filed a countersuit, claiming he was still owed $30 million from the original deal. Both of those instances are still in the works.
At least one opposition official called Mr. Rivera’s assertion that he had been working for the opposition rather than the Venezuelan government ludicrous when PDV USA filed its case against him in 2020.
The indictment that was published on Monday alleges that former PDVSA official and Venezuelan minister of international affairs Delcy Rodrguez directed executives at Citgo, PDV USA’s oil-refining affiliate in the United States, to sign the consulting contract with Mr. Rivera’s firm. Ms. Rodriguez has been appointed vice president of Venezuela.
According to the accusation, Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer attempted to influence U.S. policy toward Venezuela by setting up meetings using emails and encrypted text messages. In April of 2018, a member of Congress from Texas who must remain nameless met with Mr. Maduro in Caracas.
The AP named the politician Republican Representative Pete Sessions
The indictment claims that Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer met twice with an unidentified Florida U.S. senator at a private location in Washington to discuss a possible arrangement in which Mr. Maduro would agree to organise “free and fair” elections in Venezuela in exchange for “reconciliation.”
Mr. Rivera is an old friend and roommate of Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who was a key player in the effort to penalise the Maduro government under the Trump administration. On Monday, we reached out to Mr. Rubio’s office for comment, but we heard nothing back.
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Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer failed to set up a meeting with a White House aide to discuss the same topic, according to the indictment
If Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer are found guilty, the federal government could seize their four homes in Florida, including a townhouse in a gated community that was previously Mr. Rivera’s principal residence, as well as the $23.75 million implicated in the alleged crimes.
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