Former Miami congressman David Rivera spent years railing against communism, so many were surprised at the news that he signed a $50 million contract with the Nicolas Maduro socialist regime in Venezuela.
In a lawsuit filed in the United States Southern District Court of New York, the American subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the state-owned oil and gas company, claims Rivera’s company Interamerican Consulting broke a contract after they paid him $15 million. The lawsuit was first reported by the New York Times.
The company wants the money returned with interest.
“All those funds went to the opposition for anti-Maduro protests in the summer of 2018,” Rivera wrote to NBC 6. “I never saw a penny of it.”
The legal team for the company, Wilkee, Farr, and Gallagher, claims Rivera was paid $15 million to improve the company’s “reputation and standing” with key figures in the United States. The lawsuit claims Rivera signed the contract in 2017 when the company was controlled by Maduro’s socialist government. In 2019, the United States banned Americans from overt business with Maduro’s regime, instead recognizing Juan Guaido’s opposition government.
“Certainly in the Cuban-American community he’s a known quantity. In Southwest Dade, in Hialeah. He’s somewhat of a household name so I’m sure there’s a lot of people talking about this story today,” said NBC 6 political analyst Carlos Curbelo.
For years, Rivera was one of the harshest critics and fiercest opponents of communist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.
The apparent flip has Rivera’s former allies acting fast to separate themselves.
Sen. Marco Rubio, longtime friend and former roommate of Rivera, wrote NBC 6, “if the facts are as they have been reported it would be deeply disappointing news.”
According to Miami-Dade County campaign finance records, Rivera’s company donated to multiple political campaigns: Commissioner Steve Bovo’s race for county mayor, Palmetto Bay Vice Mayor John Dubois’ campaign for county commission place 8, and Giofranco Puppio-Perez’s former run for county school board.
Bovo was quick to say he was returning the $1,000 contribution from Rivera. On Twitter, Bovo wrote that he's “consistently condemned any activity that aids the Maduro dictatorship.”
“Commissioner Bovo knows there’s a liability there. He knows he could be attacked for having accepted this contribution and he wanted to dissociate himself from the scandal and Mr. Rivera as quickly as possible,” Curbelo said.
The campaigns of Dubois and Puppio-Perez have not yet responded to an NBC 6 request for comment.
According to FEC documents from 2019, Rivera also donated $2,800 to the campaign of Irina Vilarino, who ran for congressional district 26, which is currently held by Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. State finance records show another $1,000 contribution to Rhonda Lopez’s campaign for Florida house district 120.
Vilarino and Lopez have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The Miami-Dade Democratic Party pointed publicly to the donations.
“Candidate DuBois owes this community an apology for accepting tainted money and for his silence in the face of this scandal,” said chair Steve Simeonidis.
The lawsuit claims Rivera would be paid $50 million for a three-month period but had to submit reports on the progress he made. The lawsuit claims he only submitted two reports that did not detail much work.
While serving Miami in D.C. as a member of Congress, Rivera led an effort to expel a Venezuelan consul in Miami. In his comment to NBC 6, Rivera wrote to “ask the Citgo 6,” a reference to five Americans who have been detained in Venezuela since 2017. Rivera claims the Trump administration was aware of his efforts to help the opposition government.
According to the lawsuit, Rivera is still asking the company for the remaining $35 million. The company is now under the control of Guaido’s opposition government.