Ex-Miami U.S. Rep. David Rivera arrested in Venezuela probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Miami congressman who signed a $50 million consulting contract with Venezuela’s socialist government was arrested on Monday for money laundering and representing a foreign government without registering.

David Rivera, a Republican who served from 2011 to 2013, was arrested at the Atlanta airport, said Marlene Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami. The eight-count indictment alleges he was part of a conspiracy to lobby on behalf of Venezuela to improve U.S.-Venezuelan relations, resolve a legal dispute with an oil company and end U.S. economic sanctions against the South American nation – without registering as a foreign agent.

The indictment cites meetings in Washington, New York and elsewhere that Rivera is described as arranging with senators, congressmen and White House officials, none of whom are named.

In July 2017, for example, the indictment alleges that Rivera wrote in text messages to an unnamed U.S. senator, “Remember that the United States should facilitate, not just support, a negotiated solution” and “No revenge, reconciliation”.

Pressure has been mounting on Rivera for more than two years after it emerged he was awarded the massive contract by a US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company as President Nicolas Maduro tried to curry favor with the White House at the start of the Trump administration.

Rivera’s Interamerican Consulting was sued in 2020 by PDV USA – a Delaware-based subsidiary of Venezuelan-owned Citgo – alleging the former congressman failed to perform any work under the contract he signed. in 2017 for three months of “strategic advice” intended to build bridges with the main American stakeholders.

In the indictment, prosecutors say that in October 2017, Rivera texted acknowledging that he should sign up to pressure the Venezuelan government or “my lawyer told me it’s currently illegal…and not to touch it with a 50 foot pole.” , but that would be a scandal of monumental proportions.

Although Rivera’s contract was with a US entity, any work he did on behalf of Maduro’s government or Venezuelan business interests required him to register as a foreign lobbyist.

Rivera, 57, claimed his innocence and counterattacked PDV USA, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment for his $30 million default, he says he is still owed. A lawyer for Rivera said he had not seen the indictment, and Rivera did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The US Marshals Service said Rivera was released from jail Monday afternoon after making his first appearance in federal court in Atlanta.

Around the time Rivera was hired, Maduro’s government was seeking to woo Donald Trump’s administration, donating $500,000 to its inaugural committee through Citgo and initially avoiding direct criticism from the new US president. who had a penchant for befriending strongmen, including Russian Vladimir Putin and North Korean Kim. Jong Un.

The charm offensive ultimately failed, as Trump in 2019 recognized opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader. and imposed tough oil sanctions on the OPEC nation in a bid to topple Maduro.

Files that have emerged in the ongoing lawsuit show that Rivera’s advisory work was closely coordinated with Raul Gorrin – a Venezuelan insider and media mogul who has been sanctioned and indicted in the United States for money laundering. .

Correspondence introduced into the lawsuit shows Rivera and Gorrin discussing the purchase of “concert tickets” – a possible code word for bribes – from unnamed officials and attempting to coordinate a meeting between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela and executives of the American oil company Exxon.

As part of the effort, they also brought in Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, whose former Dallas district was home to Exxon and who secretly visited Venezuela in 2018. to meet Maduro.

A portion of the $15 million in payments Rivera received under the contract was transferred to two of his associates and a Miami company, Interglobal Yacht Management, which PDV USA says was used to pay the servicing one of Gorrin’s superyachts.

To justify the large payments, PDV USA allegedly created “bogus contracts” backdated to March 20, 2017 – the day before the consultancy agreement took effect.

Rivera’s contract had all the hallmarks of a sham, according to PDV USA, which since 2019 has been run by administrators appointed by the US-backed opposition.

According to the lawsuit, Rivera’s Interamerican earned just $9,500 the year before he was picked, out of the blue, by Maduro loyalists without any due diligence. Rivera never met anyone from Citgo or PDV USA in person while she was supposedly working on his behalf. Instead, he filed two “deficient and inconsistent” progress reports out of the seven he was required to submit.

“The written record is devoid of any evidence that Interamerican performed any of the contracted services,” PDV USA argues in court filings. “There is not a single e-mail, a single PowerPoint presentation, a single plan, a single memorandum, a single calendar entry or anything else to suggest that Interamerican has ever provided any of services.”

Before being elected to Congress, Rivera was a high-ranking Florida lawmaker, serving from 2003 to 2010 in the House. During this time, he shared a home in Tallahassee with current U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who eventually became Florida House Speaker.

Rivera has been embroiled in several election-related controversies, including orchestrating the stealth fundraising of an unknown Democratic candidate to face his main rival in a South Florida congressional race and a state inquiry into whether he hid a million dollar contract with a game company. This investigation also involved possible misuse of campaign funds to pay for State House activities already reimbursed by the state.

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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Associated Press reporter Curt Anderson contributed from St. Petersburg, Florida.

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