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Apr 11, 2:05 PM EDT

No bail for Rivera associate in campaign case



MIAMI (AP) -- A federal judge denied bail Friday for an associate of former U.S. Rep. David Rivera in a campaign finance violations case after a prosecutor said the associate used some passport trickery to flee to Nicaragua in the middle of the investigation.

Ana Alliegro was asked by the FBI following two days of interviews in October 2013 to surrender her U.S. passport, and she gave them one, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill at a hearing. But that document turned out to be a one-year temporary passport Alliegro got after claiming she had lost her permanent one.

"The next thing we know, she's back in Nicaragua," Mulvihill said. "She's clearly a flight risk."

In addition, Mulvihill said Alliegro and an unnamed individual - Rivera's name never came up during the hearing - flew first to Texas, then took a bus to Mexico to catch a flight to Nicaragua. There Alliegro remained until she was arrested in early March by the Nicaraguans and turned over to U.S. authorities.

That was enough for U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes, who noted that Alliegro had previously gone to Nicaragua after agreeing to voluntary talk with the FBI but failing to show up.

"That's twice," the judge said in ordering pretrial detention.

Alliegro, 44, is charged with funneling over $80,000 - much of it in cash - to the 2012 Democratic primary campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a previously unknown candidate with scant financial resources who pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations. Sternad is cooperating with prosecutors.

The case centers on whether Rivera and Alliegro were using Sternad as a straw candidate in the primary in an attempt to weaken Democrat Joe Garcia, who eventually defeated Rivera for South Florida's 26th District U.S. House seat. Rivera, a Republican, has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime.

Alliegro faces up to five years in prison if convicted on each of four counts. Mulvihill spent much of Friday's hearing detailing the voluminous evidence against her, much of it obtained from her computer and telephone and from business people who said they were paid by her to do campaign flyers and mailings for Sternad.

"I think this case is absolutely overwhelming," the prosecutor said.

Alliegro's attorney, John Bergendahl, had asked for home confinement with electronic monitoring. He said Alliegro has little motivation to flee because she likely would do a relatively short prison term given the "likelihood or the prospect" of her cooperation with prosecutors.

A June 30 trial date has been set.

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