The freshman lawmaker filed erroneous reports on his personal finances while in state office, falsely amended those disclosures following critical media reports, and received reimbursements from his campaign and government accounts to cover personal expenses, according to a copy of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement report reviewed by Roll Call.
“Analysis of documents obtained to date supports the contention that Mr. Rivera purposely falsified his financial disclosure forms in an attempt to legitimize other source of income beyond his salary as a State Legislator,” the report said.
Despite the evidence, prosecutors said they could not bring criminal charges against Rivera in part because the statute of limitations on such crimes had passed, the Herald reported. The Florida newspaper also reported that the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI are investigating a payment Rivera received from a dog track owned by his mother, though the lawmaker has disputed that claim.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office had asked the state Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Rivera after the Herald published a series of articles on the lawmaker’s finances.
As a state lawmaker, Rivera filed annual disclosures of his personal finances with the Florida Commission on Ethics that showed secondary sources of income unrelated to his legislative salary. After numerous media reports detailed problems with the filings, including phantom and unregistered companies that were listed as sources of income, Rivera amended the disclosures and instead stated that he had received a $132,000 loan from an entity called Millennium Marketing that he had initially listed as a source of income.
“It appears that, Mr. Rivera utilized Millennium Marketing as a ‘pass through’ for at least $132,000 in compensation he received from Southwest Florida Enterprises, a corporation involved in the pari-mutuel industry, specifically, the Flagler Dog Track in Miami, Florida,” the department’s report concluded. “This compensation was related to his involvement in the passage of the citizen referendum for gaming slots in Miami Dade County occurring between 2006 and 2008.”
Though investigators concluded that Rivera’s actions did not “appear to specifically meet the quid pro quo requirements for violating Florida’s Unlawful Compensation law,” the investigation “did identify potential ethical violations” related to his effort to obscure the source of his outside income.
The same loan is listed on the financial disclosure that Rivera filed with the House, which could create an ethics problem for him on the Hill if the liability was mischaracterized.
The department’s report also identified multiple instances in which Rivera used funds from multiple re-election campaigns to pay for personal expenses, including $65,000 in credit card charges for dry cleaning, dental care, entertainment, travel costs for his girlfriend and other expenses over four years.
Rivera also accepted voucher reimbursements from the state for $29,500 in travel costs that his campaign had already paid, the report said.
The report had immediate political ramifications for Rivera, who has struggled to raise money with the specter of indictment looming over him. Allies saw the report as great news.
“I think it means that the cloud that has been hanging over David’s head has disappeared,” said Ana Navarro, a Florida Republican strategist and longtime friend of the Congressman. “Republican donors and the establishment seem to be putting their toes back in the water, and the Democrats have an absolute nobody running against him.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is scheduled to have a fundraiser for Rivera on May 16 in Washington, D.C., according to an invitation for the event obtained by Roll Call.
Real estate businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses (D) announced her candidacy for the 26th district, where Rivera is running, last week. Roll Call rates the South Florida race as Leans Republican.
In recent public comments, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) used Rivera as an example of a Republican Member in a GOP-leaning seat whom Democrats might be able to pick off.
In a meeting with reporters earlier this year, Israel joked about Rivera’s legal troubles. “Rivera is an incumbent who is being investigated by virtually every investigative authority that’s ever been created. If the Girl Scouts had subpoena power, they would be investigating Rivera,” Israel said, embracing hyperbole. That kind of argument will now be harder for Democrats to make.
Still, there was negative political news for Rivera today too. Many of the details of the Department of Law Enforcement report could, and probably will, make for potent television spots against him. And the Herald reported that he is still under investigation by the IRS and FBI, not organizations generally associated with winning campaigns.
National Democrats were still bullish on the seat.
“Although the state statute of limitations for Congressman David Rivera on these criminal activities ran out, Rivera is still the focus of an FBI and an IRS probe for possible tax evasion,” DCCC spokeswoman Stephanie Formas said in a statement. “Democrats will defeat Rivera in November because of his extensive record of cover ups, lies and distortions.”
The Rivera campaign defended the lawmaker in a statement to Roll Call.
“As he has always maintained, Congressman Rivera at all times acted in compliance with both the letter and spirit of Florida and federal campaign finance laws and has timely and properly reported all personal income,” the statement said. “All funds raised and spent in relation to Congressman Rivera’s campaigns for State House, Republican State Executive Committee, or U.S. Congress, were done with the strictest adherence to all applicable legal standards. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.