Ex-Miami US Rep. David Rivera arrested in Venezuela probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Miami congressman who signed a $50 million consulting contract with Venezuela’s socialist authorities was arrested Monday on fees of cash laundering and representing a international authorities with out registering.

David Rivera, a Republican who has been marred by scandals stretching again to his days in Congress from 2011 to 2013, was arrested at Atlanta’s airport, in response to the U.S. Lawyer’s Workplace in Miami.

The eight-count indictment alleges Rivera in the beginning of the Trump administration was a part of a conspiracy to foyer on behalf of Venezuela to decrease tensions with the U.S., resolve a authorized dispute with a U.S. oil firm and finish U.S. sanctions in opposition to the South American nation — all with out registering as a international agent.

The indictment cites conferences in Washington, New York and Dallas that Rivera both attended or tried to arrange for allies of President Nicolas Maduro with U.S. lawmakers and a high aide to former President Donald Trump. To cover the delicate nature of his work, prosecutors allege Rivera referred to Maduro in chat messages because the “bus driver,” a congressman as “Sombrero” and tens of millions of {dollars} as “melons.”

Whereas not one of the U.S. officers are named, proof in a parallel lawsuit introduced in opposition to Rivera present that whereas working for Venezuela the previous congressman was in touch with Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime buddy who helped drive the Trump administration’s hardline coverage in opposition to Maduro.

As a part of the attraction offensive, he additionally regarded to arrange a doable flight and assembly on a the jet of a pro-Maduro businessman for a feminine marketing campaign adviser turned White Home “counselor” on June 27, 2017 — the identical day Trump aide Kellyanne Conway was in Miami for a fundraising dinner with Miami Republicans.

He additionally roped in Rep. Pete Classes of Texas to attempt to arrange a gathering for Venezuela’s international minister with executives from Exxon, which was headquartered in Classes’ district on the time.

In July 2017, for instance, the indictment alleges Rivera wrote in textual content messages to the unnamed U.S. senator forward of a key assembly on the White Home the place he hoped the lawmaker would focus on with Trump a doable deal to finish Venezuela’s endless political battle.

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“Keep in mind, US ought to facilitate, not simply help, a negotiated resolution,” he wrote. “No vengeance, reconciliation.”

Rubio and Classes’ places of work did not instantly reply to electronic mail and cellphone requests for remark.

Strain has been constructing on Rivera for greater than two years after it emerged that he acquired the huge contract from a U.S. affiliate of Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm as Maduro was making an attempt to curry favor with the Trump White Home.

Rivera’s Interamerican Consulting was sued in 2020 by PDV USA — a Delaware-based affiliate of Venezuelan-owned Citgo — for not dwelling as much as the contract he signed in 2017 for 3 months of “strategic consulting.”

Though Rivera’s contract was initially signed with a U.S. entity, any work he carried out on behalf of Maduro’s authorities or Venezuelan enterprise pursuits required him to register as a international lobbyist.

It was one thing prosecutors allege Rivera acknowledged himself in October 2017 when he despatched a textual content message relaying a lawyer’s recommendation to not get anyplace close to mum or dad firm PDVSA in Caracas and that failure to remain away “can be a scandal of monumental proportions.” Three weeks later, prosecutors say he acquired a $5 million fee from PDVSA’s account at Gazprom Financial institution in Russia.

Rivera, 57, has maintained his innocence and has countersued PDV USA, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment for its failure to pay $30 million he says he’s nonetheless owed. A lawyer for Rivera stated he had not seen the indictment and Rivera didn’t instantly reply to an electronic mail searching for remark.

The U.S. Marshals Service stated Rivera bailed out of jail Monday afternoon after making an preliminary look in Atlanta federal court docket.

Across the time Rivera was employed, Maduro’s authorities was searching for to court docket the Trump’s administration, donating $500,000 to his inaugural committee by means of Citgo and initially avoiding outright criticism of the brand new U.S. president, who had a penchant for praising strongmen together with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

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The outreach effort in the end failed, as Trump in 2019 acknowledged opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s reputable chief and imposed stiff oil sanctions on the OPEC nation in a bid to unseat Maduro.

Information that emerged as a part of the continued lawsuit present Rivera’s consulting work was intently coordinated with Raul Gorrin — a Venezuelan insider and media tycoon who has been sanctioned and indicted within the U.S. on cash laundering fees.

Previous to being charged in late 2018, Gorrin had enmeshed himself in south Florida, the place he owned an opulent residence, and common himself a peacemaker who may construct bridges throughout Venezuela’s deep political divide in addition to between Maduro’s authorities and the U.S.

Whereas Rivera was working with Venezuela, Gorrin’s TV community employed Trump-connected lobbyist Brian Ballard to purportedly discover alternatives for a U.S. enlargement. Throughout that point Gorrin took a photograph with Vice President Mike Pence at an occasion in Miami. It was additionally throughout this time that prosecutors allege Rivera tried to rearrange a gathering aboard the personal jet for the visiting White Home adviser.

“The six-hour assembly with (the President of the US)’s counselor . . . is extra essential than the assembly with (the Vice-President of the US), as a result of she made him president directing his marketing campaign. And he or she works at his aspect every single day,” Rivera texted the businessman, who’s recognized solely as “Overseas Particular person 1” within the indictment.

Correspondence launched as a part of the lawsuit exhibits Rivera and the businessman additionally discussing shopping for “live performance tickets” — a doable code phrase for bribes — to unnamed officers and trying to coordinate a gathering between Venezuela’s international minister and executives from Exxon.

As a part of that effort, in addition they roped in Classes, who secretly traveled to Venezuela in 2018 to fulfill with Maduro.

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Prosecutors allege a few of the $15 million that Rivera acquired as a part of the contract was funneled to pay for upkeep on one of many businessman’s superyachts. Different funds had been transferred to Miami-based political advisor Esther Nuhfer, who was additionally charged. A smaller quantity was paid to a different lady, an unnamed Orlando-based political advisor, who acted as a liaison to the U.S. congressman.

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

In accordance with the lawsuit, Rivera’s Interamerican made simply $9,500 within the 12 months earlier than being picked, out of the blue, by Venezuela’s then Overseas Minister Delcy Rodriguez with none due diligence. Rivera by no means met in individual with anybody from Citgo or PDV USA whereas supposedly engaged on its behalf. As a substitute, he filed two “poor and incoherent” progress reviews of the seven he was required to submit.

“The written document is bereft of any proof that Interamerican carried out any of the contracted providers,” PDV USA argues in court docket filings. “There may be not a single electronic mail, a single PowerPoint presentation, a single define, a single memorandum, a single calendar entry, or anything suggesting that Interamerican ever carried out any of the providers.”

Earlier than being elected to Congress, Rivera was a high-ranking Florida legislator, serving from 2003 to 2010 within the Home. Throughout that point he shared a Tallahassee residence with Rubio, who ultimately turned Florida Home speaker.

Rivera has been embroiled in a number of election-related controversies, together with orchestrating the stealth funding of an unknown Democratic candidate to tackle his principal rival in a South Florida congressional race and a state investigation into whether or not he hid a $1 million contract with a playing firm. That probe additionally concerned doable misuse of marketing campaign funds to pay for state Home actions already reimbursed by the state.


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