Former Florida Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who had a lot of connections, has been arrested on federal charges like not registering as a foreign agent. The case is mostly about how Rivera signed a $50 million contract with Venezuela’s government in early 2017 and then tried to improve relations between Venezuela and the U.S.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida told NPR via email that “law enforcement officers arrested David Rivera” on Monday in Atlanta. Rivera went to court to face a federal magistrate judge, and a federal grand jury indicted him on November 16, the office said.
In a criminal indictment that was just made public, Rivera is accused of using his connections to members of Congress and former President Donald Trump’s White House to try to make deals between the U.S. and the government of Nicolás Maduro. Esther Nuhfer, a political consultant, and lobbyist from Miami-Dade County who has known Rivera for a long time is also charged with the crime.
Rivera and His Partners Made Millions of Dollars.
According to court documents, Rivera signed a consulting contract with PDV USA, which is the U.S. branch of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. On the Venezuelan side, the deal was made at the request of Delcy Rodriguez, a high-ranking executive at the state oil company who was also the minister of foreign affairs at the time. Rodriguez later became Venezuela’s vice president.
According to the federal indictment, the contract said that Interamerican, which Rivera ran out of his home, would get five payments of $5 million and a final payment of $25 million, all within three months. But the deal covered a period of time that went well into 2018.
The indictment says that Venezuela wanted Rivera to lobby politicians to help normalize its relationship with the U.S., settle a trade dispute with a U.S. oil company, and stop a new round of sanctions against Maduro’s regime and relatives.
The court filing says that Rivera and Nuhfer didn’t register as foreign agents, but instead tried to “illegally enrich themselves” by influencing U.S. policy toward Venezuela while posing as consultants for the Venezuelan oil company’s U.S. affiliate instead of as government agents.
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Identities Are Obscured in Court Papers
The federal indictment doesn’t say the names of a number of important U.S. officials who are said to have met or talked with Rivera often about Venezuela’s interests. For example, “U.S. Congressman 1” is a lawmaker from Texas, and “U.S. Senator 1” is a lawmaker from Florida.
The federal indictment says that Rivera and his contacts used a variety of fake names and code words in emails and encrypted text messages as a way to hide the details of their conversations.
For example, they called Maduro “El Guaguero,” which was a reference to the fact that he rose to power from being a bus driver. The name for U.S. Congressman 1 was “Sombrero,” and there were at least two slang words for money: La Luz meant money in general, and “melones” meant millions of dollars, according to the document.
The indictment says that Rivera talked to a woman named “White House Advisor 1.” This woman was “a senior advisor to the President of the United States,” according to the indictment.
In June 2017, Rivera asked if the White House official could take a private jet in a message to a group chat. Two days later, he told people on the chat to put a meeting with Trump’s “counselor” at the top of their list. He seemed to be talking about Kellyanne Conway, who was Trump’s counselor.
Rivera said that the counselor was “more important” in the Trump White House than Vice President Pence because she made him president by running his campaign. She works every day with him.”
In another message from September 2017, Rivera said, “I just talked to our friend in the White House again. She says she’s ready to help in any way she can. The faster The Light gets there, the faster the engines will start.”
The Civil Case Has Details and Clues About Who They Are
When the arrangement didn’t lead to the breakthroughs Rivera promised, PDV USA sued the former congressman in U.S. court for about $15 million and said it doesn’t have to pay the rest of its contract. Rivera said that he was still owed another $30 million, so he sued back.
In its lawsuit, PDV USA says that Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions was one of the people who helped Rivera. In its civil complaint, the company says that Sessions was the one who tried to set up a meeting between Exxon, Rodriguez, and other Venezuelan officials.
The complaint says, “In any case, the meeting with Exxon never happened.” But another meeting that got a lot of attention did happen. In April 2018, Sessions was said to have gone to Venezuela on a “secret peacemaking trip” where he met with Maduro.
The U.S. indictment says that “U.S. Senator 1,” who is not named, met at a private home and a hotel in Washington, D.C., to talk about Venezuela. At least once, the senator was set to meet with Trump the next morning to talk about Venezuela.
Neither the criminal complaint nor the civil complaint says who that senator is. But many news outlets say that Rivera has been a close friend of Florida Senator Marco Rubio for a long time.
Representatives for Rivera and Sessions did not answer requests for comment right away.
In a statement to NPR, a spokesperson for Rubio said that during a meeting in July 2017, Rivera told Rubio that Raul Gorrn, a close friend of Maduro’s, wanted to personally deliver a letter from Maduro to Trump “laying out a deal to hold fair and free elections and hand over power.
“In a short meeting in Washington, Gorrin didn’t show any such letter and didn’t even bring up the possibility of a deal “the person speaking up said.
“The indictment makes it clear that Mr. Rivera and his associates ‘never told any of the U.S. officials they met that they were lobbying on behalf of the Government of Venezuela,'” the spokesperson said. A spokesperson for Rubio said that he hasn’t changed his mind about the fact that sanctions should only be lifted if free and fair elections are held in Venezuela.
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According to Court Documents
Court records show that the U.S. officials had their own demands for any possible deal. For example, they wanted to know if Maduro would honor the results of free democratic elections. Maduro has turned down these requests.
From depositions and the discovery of evidence in the case, PDV USA’s court filings give several details about Rivera’s actions. For one thing, the company says that Rivera gave Nuhfer and other people who worked with him millions of dollars as “payments to subcontractors.”
From the court document:
“These associates and alleged subcontractors include Raul Gorrn, a billionaire Maduro supporter who was indicted in the U.S. for his role in a massive money laundering and bribery operation, Hugo Perera, a convicted drug trafficker who is currently under criminal investigation [for the PDV contract], and Esther Nuhfer and her alleged political consulting firm, Communication Solutions.”
PDV USA says that it “didn’t know about Interamerican’s illegal behavior” and that its contract can’t be enforced because it was based on a “sham.”
Rivera said in a civil case-related deposition last summer that the FBI had told him, “Mr. Perera has been an FBI informant since December 2019.” This shows how the Justice Department might have come up with part of its case against him.
Rivera has been having problems with other countries, and he recently lost a long-running case against the Federal Election Commission. The FEC had accused him of giving $75,927.31 to a campaign in the name of someone else. In that case, he was told to pay a civil fine of $456,000.