WASHINGTON — An ex-Miami congressman who signed a $50M consulting contract with Venezuela’s socialist government, was arrested Monday as part of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.
Marlene Rodriguez, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Miami, stated that David Rivera, a Republican, was taken into custody at Atlanta’s airport. Rivera was indicted last month by a Miami grand jury, but the document is still sealed so she cannot discuss the charges.
Rivera has been under pressure for over two years since it was revealed that Rivera received the huge contract from a U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company. This came as President Nicolas Maduro tried to curry favor with Trump in the early days.
PDV USA, a Delaware-based affiliate owned by Citgo and Rivera’s Interamerican Consulting, sued Rivera’s Interamerican Consulting in 2020. They claimed that the former congressman did not perform any work under the 2017 contract for three months of strategic consulting. This was to help build bridges between key U.S. stakeholders.
Rivera, 57 has maintained his innocence. He countersued PDV USA alleging breach-of-contract and unjust enrichment due to its failure pay $30 million that he claims he is still owed.
U.S. The U.S. Marshals Service reported that Rivera was released from jail on Monday after his initial appearance at Atlanta federal court. Jeffrey Feldman, his attorney, refused to comment and told The AP via text that he hadn’t seen the indictment.
Rivera was contracted with a U.S. entity. However, Rivera would need to register as an international lobbyist for any work he did on behalf Maduro’s government and Venezuelan business interests.
Maduro’s government was trying to court Donald Trump at the time Rivera was hired. They donated $500,000 through Citgo to his inaugural committee and initially avoided criticism of Trump, who had a tendency to befriend other strongmen like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
In a bid to overthrow Maduro, Trump finally gave up on his charm offensive. He recognized Juan Guaido, an opposition lawmaker, as Venezuela’s legitimate leader in 2019. He also imposed severe oil sanctions against the OPEC country.
As part of an ongoing lawsuit, records show that Rivera’s consulting work was closely supervised by Raul Gorrin, a Venezuelan insider who is now indicted in the U.S. for money laundering.
Correspondence that was included in the lawsuit shows Rivera discussing purchasing “concert tickets” — a code word for bribes to unnamed officials. They also attempted to coordinate a meeting between Venezuela’s foreign minister and executives of Exxon, the U.S. petroleum company.
They also brought in Republican Rep. Pete Sessions to help. His former Dallas district was home Exxon. He secretly traveled to Venezuela to meet Maduro in 2018.
Rivera was paid $15 million as part of the contract. Some of this money was transferred to his associates and to Interglobal Yacht Management in Miami, which PDV USA claims was used for maintenance on Gorrin’s superyacht.
PDV USA is alleged to have created “phony agreements” that were backdated to March 20, 2017, the day before the consulting contract was in effect.
According to PDV USA (which has been run since 2019 by U.S-backed opposition directors), Rivera’s contract for consulting had all the signs of a fraud.
The lawsuit claims that Rivera’s Interamerican earned just $9,500 last year, before it was picked by Maduro loyalists out of thin air. Rivera did not meet with any Citgo or PDV USA representatives while working for them. Instead, Rivera filed two “deficient” and “incoherent progress reports instead of the seven that he was required.
PDV USA claims that the written record does not contain any evidence that Interamerican performed the services contracted. “There is no email, one PowerPoint presentation, one outline, a memorandum or calendar entry that suggests Interamerican performed any of these services.”
Rivera served as a high-ranking Florida legislator from 2003 to 2010. Rivera lived in Tallahassee with the current U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who became the Florida House Speaker.
Rivera has been involved in many election-related scandals since then. He orchestrated the funding of an unknown Democratic candidate to challenge his main rival in South Florida’s congressional race. A state investigation was also launched into Rivera’s involvement in hiding a $1million contract with a casino company. The probe also looked into possible misuse of campaign money to pay for activities in the state House that had been reimbursed by state.