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Florida Man

Former Florida GOP congressman arrested, charged with secret lobbying on behalf of Venezuela

Federal agents arrested former Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) at Atlanta's international airport on Monday and charged him with money laundering and working on behalf of Venezuela as an unregistered foreign agent. Rivera and his former political consultant Esther Nuhfer, also charged Monday, signed a $50 million contract with Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) in early 2017 to lobby on behalf of Venezuela's authoritarian government and try to convince Congress and the new Trump administration to normalize relations and end U.S. sanctions, according to an eight-count indictment handed down by a Miami federal grand jury. 

"Rivera, who served in Congress from 2011 to 2013 after a career in the State Legislature, is Cuban American and known in Florida politics as a strident anti-communist," The New York Times reports. His contract with socialist Venezuela came to light in 2000 when PDVSA's U.S. affiliate, PDV USA, sued him for doing no work despite being paid $23.75 million of his $50 million contract. Rivera countersued, saying PDV USA still owed him $30 million. Those cases are still pending, the Times reports.

Rivera and Nuhfer did do some work on behalf of Venezuela, federal prosecutors allege.

The indictment said Rivera and Nuhfer, as part of their unregistered foreign lobbying, met with an unidentified Texas congressman, identified in the news media as former Rep. Pete Sessions (R), and set up two meetings in Washington with an unidentified Republican senator from Florida — widely believed to be Sen. Marco Rubio (R), Rivera's close friend and former roommate in Tallahassee — to discuss a potential deal for U.S. "reconciliation."

Rivera appeared in court in Atlanta and was released from jail after paying bail Monday afternoon, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

Rivera is facing his first criminal charges but he's been embroiled in several controversies, including paying a little-known Democratic candidate to weaken his primary Democratic opponent, Joe Garcia, in Rivera's successful 2010 campaign. Garcia unseated Rivera in 2012, and the Federal Election Commission won a $465,000 judgment against Rivera in 2021 tied to the 2010 election meddling. 

Rivera was also investigated over a secret $1 million consulting contract with a gambling company. The Florida Commission on Ethics proposed fining Rivera nearly $58,000 in fines for failing to properly report his income and double-billing taxpayers for travel expenses when he was in the state House, Politico reports, though then-Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva (R) declined to impose that fine in 2019.