Probe of Ex-Florida Congressman Hinges on Friend

Ana Alliegro, 44, is in a Broward County jail awaiting an Aug. 25 trial on four felony campaign finance charges that each carry maximum five-year prison sentences. She has pleaded not guilty and was denied bail by two separate judges because, in the midst of the FBI investigation, she twice fled to Nicaragua rather than meet with prosecutors and agents.

Alliegro is charged with funneling about $80,000 to an unknown Democratic congressional candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, who was running in the 2012 primary for the chance to challenge GOP incumbent Rivera in Florida’s 26th congressional district. Prosecutors say Sternad, a low-paid Miami Beach hotel clerk with no political experience, was a ringer candidate intended to smear Democrat Joe Garcia, who is much better known and ultimately toppled Rivera in the general election.

Sternad pleaded guilty, has cooperated with the investigation and on July 10 was sentenced to seven months in federal prison. Although prosecutors have not identified Rivera by name, they refer to Alliegro as working with “co-conspirator A.” Sternad directly implicated Rivera in testimony, and defense lawyers say Rivera is the person prosecutors are referring to.

“I hate to admit that I let Ana Alliegro and David Rivera take advantage of me,” he said in court the day he was sentenced.

Rivera, once a rising GOP star in Florida and close friend of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio when both were state legislators, has not been charged and again denied any involvement or wrongdoing in an email to The Associated Press.

“The answer is the same one I gave you two years ago: No,” he wrote.

Rivera in May filed papers to run again for his old U.S. House seat but suspended his campaign in July, citing confusion about congressional districts when a judge invalidated Florida’s new map. But he seemed to struggle before that to gain traction in the race, reporting only $11,000 in campaign contributions for the three-month period ending July 15 — and that was a loan from Rivera to his own campaign.

Alliegro was Rivera’s close political ally, both of them steeped in the Cuban-American community fiercely opposed to communist Cuba. Her grandfather, Anselmo Alliegro, held a number of senior government and legislative posts under former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista and was even president for a day in 1959 after Batista fled Fidel Castro’s revolution.

Former federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein said it appears that without Alliegro’s cooperation it will be difficult to build a winnable case against Rivera. Alliegro’s lawyers have filed several motions seeking to have several pieces of evidence thrown out, hardly a sign of cooperation.

“If Alliegro loses her pending motions, her only choice will be to sign a cooperation agreement, flip on Rivera and reduce her (prison) time,” Weinstein said. “Otherwise, she is going to be looking at a lengthy prison sentence as her reward for keeping her mouth shut.”

Yet, Alliegro might be a problematic witness.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill said Alliegro in fall 2013 signed a document indicating she would plead guilty. But instead of following through — and even though she had surrendered her passport — Alliegro flew to Texas, boarded a bus for Mexico and took a plane to Nicaragua, where she opened a hair salon in the tourist town of Granada. It turned out she had a duplicate passport.

According to court documents, Alliegro had different versions of a false resume on her computer seized by FBI agents, one claiming she had received a received a political science degree from Harvard University and the other claiming she attended St. Thomas University near Miami.

“Integrity may not be Alliegro’s strongest character trait,” Mulvihill said in court papers.

She’s had other brushes with the law. In 2007, she was charged with firing a gun into the ceiling at the home of her ex-husband, a developer with whom she wanted to restart a relationship, according to court records. A police report said she sat on a desk naked and compared the gun to the male sexual organ. She eventually pleaded guilty to reduced charges and was sentenced to probation.

Ultimately, Alliegro was detained by Nicaraguan police in March, turned over to U.S. authorities and flown to Miami to face charges.

Rivera has avoided trouble before. State prosecutors in Miami pursued up to 52 possible ethics and campaign finance violation charges against Rivera related to his personal use of campaign funds and a $1 million contract he had with a Florida gambling company, but investigators in 2012 decided to bring no charges in part because the statutes of limitation had expired.

Federal investigators were looking into a possible tax evasion case stemming from the same allegations, but so far it has come to naught. And when he first ran for the U.S. House, questions were raised about Rivera’s claim on state finance disclosure reports that he worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development when the agency had no record of him doing so.

SOURCE: New York Times

Candidates, voters connect through social media

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — The major-party candidates for governor of Indiana this year say using social media to reach voters has become just as effective as a handshake.

Campaign pros say major social media sites Facebook and Twitter have the advantage of providing two-way communication between candidates and the public and are an especially good way to connect with young voters.

Facebook now claims 900 million active members, and Twitter about 300 million. Then-Sen. Barack Obama famously used social media to mobilize young voters during his 2008 presidential campaign.

That’s not to say that social media sites are the be-all and end-all of political communication.

Kristina Sheeler, an associate professor of communications studies at IUPUI, said that reaching all audiences requires candidates still to put in the hard work of public appearances and to use traditional advertising.

Social media just provide more tools to get the message out, particularly to young people, Sheeler said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, the six-term congressman from Columbus who is running unopposed for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said he viewed social networking sites as unique ways to reach people who share a common vision or interest.

“With social media, there’s an opportunity to create communities, to join the team and keep informed,” Pence said. “To me, it is about building that team.”

Pence and his campaign staff use Facebook to post content from photos and thoughts from the campaign trail to well-wishes for the Pacers to call-outs for yard sign requests. And they post often. Pence’s Twitter account shares similar content with some differences, such as (hash)HoosierFactFriday, a weekly tweet featuring Indiana trivia.

Megan Jacobs, communications director for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, a former speaker of the Indiana House, said social media sites engage voters because they provide more of a “two-way street.”

On Gregg’s Twitter account, which is updated more frequently than his Facebook page, Gregg’s campaign staff posts updates about campaign stops and political issues in the news and tweets a lot of replies to supporters.

“We can use it to interact with people at a more intimate level than with the website or just a press release,” Jacobs said.

Sheeler said it’s that interaction that makes social media so special.

If people share something a candidate posts on Twitter or if a candidate responds to people’s comments on his or her Facebook page, that back-and-forth creates a conversation and builds relationships with voters, Sheeler said.

Pence said that in between campaign stops, he routinely reads comments and posts his own on Facebook — whether it’s an encouraging word about a political issue or a personal anecdote.

A recent favorite post of Pence’s was about his visit to the Hoosier Horse Fair.

“I’m kind of a horseback riding enthusiast,” he said. Posting about the fair “was a way of saying thanks and a way of saying hello to supporters out there.”

Facebook makes using social media easy, said Pence, who signs his posts “-MikePence”. He said he usually leaves updating Twitter to his campaign staff.

Social media sites also provide a simple way for voters to communicate with the candidates.

Brandon Waite, an assistant professor in the political science department at Ball State University and an Emerging Media Fellow at the university, noted that in the days before social media, voters had to write or call their representatives. Now, however, they can pose questions directly to candidates in a public forum.

As a result, political candidates — and other public figures — are more accessible than ever, Waite said.

Jacobs said Gregg himself doesn’t yet post to Facebook or Twitter, but he does email photos and information to members of his campaign staff who manage the social networking accounts.

For example, Gregg recently emailed Jacobs a photo of a Civil War monument in Winchester, where the candidate had given a speech. That photo wouldn’t typically be sent with a press release, Jacobs said, but social media presented a great way to share the image with supporters.

Source: http://posttrib.suntimes.com/news/12377399-418/candidates-voters-connect-through-social-media.html#.U9VgBEjBA4g

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2014 Elections

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