Scandal-Plagued Ex-Congressman Arrested in Venezuela Probe

David Rivera accused of signing secret contract with Venezuela
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 6, 2022 1:54 AM CST
Scandal-Plagued Ex-Congressman Arrested in Venezuela Probe
Then-Florida Republican Congressional candidate David Rivera speaks on Nov. 2, 2010, in Coral Gables, Fla.   (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

A former Miami congressman who signed a $50 million consulting contract with Venezuela’s socialist government was arrested Monday on charges of money laundering and representing a foreign government without registering, the AP reports. David Rivera, a Republican who has been marred by scandals stretching back to his days in Congress from 2011 to 2013, was arrested at Atlanta’s airport, according to the US Attorney's Office in Miami. The eight-count indictment alleges Rivera at the start of the Trump administration was part of a conspiracy to lobby on behalf of Venezuela to lower tensions with the US, resolve a legal dispute with a US oil company, and end US sanctions against the South American nation—all without registering as a foreign agent.

The indictment cites meetings in Washington, New York, and Dallas that Rivera either attended or tried to set up for allies of President Nicolas Maduro with US lawmakers and a top aide to former President Trump. To hide the sensitive nature of his work, prosecutors allege Rivera referred to Maduro in chat messages as the “bus driver," a congressman as “Sombrero” and millions of dollars as “melons.” While none of the US officials are named, evidence in a parallel lawsuit brought against Rivera shows that while working for Venezuela the former congressman was in contact with Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime friend who helped drive the Trump administration's hardline policy against Maduro.

As part of the charm offensive, he also looked to set up a possible flight and meeting on the jet of a pro-Maduro businessman for a female campaign adviser turned White House “counselor” on June 27, 2017—the same day Trump aide Kellyanne Conway was in Miami for a fundraising dinner with Miami Republicans. He also roped in Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas to try and set up a meeting for Venezuela's foreign minister with executives from Exxon, which was headquartered in Sessions' district at the time. In July 2017, the indictment alleges Rivera wrote in text messages to the unnamed US senator ahead of a key meeting at the White House where he hoped the lawmaker would discuss with Trump a possible deal to end Venezuela's never-ending political conflict. Rubio and Sessions' offices didn't immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment. (Much more here.)

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