In historic, lakeside Granada, Nicaragua, tourists strolling along La Calle Libertad come upon a blue Colonial-style building with a small sign reading, "Salon La Libertad." On a recent afternoon, a lanky Cuban-American woman with short blond hair and intense blue eyes chats on her cell phone inside. Her business card identifies her as Ana Solá, a professional stylist and the salon's owner. Tucked between a store selling handmade bracelets and the home of the local Catholic bishop, Solá's salon offers haircuts and manicures to visitors enjoying sweeping views of Lake Nicaragua.
What her customers don't know, though, is that Solá is really Ana Sol Alliegro, the most sought-after woman in Miami. Ever since she allegedly skipped out on an FBI interview September 6, the 43-year-old, self-anointed "Republican bad girl" has not been seen or heard from except by close relatives, her defense attorney, and former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, the man whose career sank with an only-in-South Florida scandal tied to Alliegro.
The feds say she's a key witness in a probe into whether Rivera broke election laws by secretly financing a ringer against his bitter rival, Joe Garcia, in the 2012 Democratic primary. Alliegro allegedly ran that ringer's campaign and ferried envelopes stuffed with unreported cash to a company making promotional materials.
David Rivera's Missing Pal Ana Alliegro Found Hiding in Nicaragua
Through multiple sources, New Times confirmed Alliegro had landed in Granada. Confronted on her cell phone, Alliegro agreed to speak to New Times, telling her side of the story for the first time. She strikes a defiant tone, insisting she did nothing wrong, denying she skipped out on the FBI, and promising to spill everything she knows whenever she decides to return to the States.
"I am not a fugitive," Alliegro tells New Times. "I am tired of being depicted as one."
Instead, she compared herself to the title character played by Adam Sandler in the 2008 movie You Don't Mess With the Zohan. "He was a spy for the [Israeli intelligence agency] Mossad," Alliegro says. "All he wanted was to cut hair like Paul Mitchell and make people feel good. That's how I feel."
Alliegro's story is equal parts personal drama and political intrigue. The latter runs in the family.
Her grandfather was the president of the senate in Cuba during the Fulgencio Batista era in the 1950s. Her uncle, Miami attorney Alfredo Duran, fought in the Bay of Pigs, spent 18 months in a Cuban prison, and served as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party from 1976 to 1980. Alliegro's dad, Anselmo, made a failed bid for the Florida Legislature in 1998. Anselmo, who worked as a security consultant, allegedly helped train the Contras — the U.S.-funded rebels fighting the Soviet-backed Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s. (Anselmo denies it, saying he only assisted "a small group of well-intended persons attempting to achieve a democratic transitional government in Nicaragua.")
Alliegro, who was born March 7, 1970, grew up in Miami's Shenandoah neighborhood and graduated in 1988 from the private Immaculata-La Salle High School. Her love affair with conservative ideology started young. "As a kid, I had a George H.W. Bush watch," she recalls. "All my life, I have fought for the GOP."
Alliegro always paired her staunch politics with a stormy personal life. Her first marriage came a month after graduation, to a man named Alexander Niebla. Their union lasted seven months, ending in a January 1989 divorce, but they married a second time later that year. The couple had a daughter, but in January 1992, Alliegro divorced Niebla.
Her first runs for public office, aided by her then-boyfriend, state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, were halting and unsuccessful. Separate 2001 campaigns against state Rep. Carlos Lacasa and county Commissioner Rebeca Sosa both ended in defeat.
Her personal life didn't fare much better. After breaking up with Diaz de la Portilla, in 2003 she married Moshe Cosicher, a developer 20 years older; she was his fifth wife. Two years later, he filed for divorce, and Alliegro filed a domestic violence complaint. Those files weren't available by presstime, but Alliegro says he threatened her with a knife. "He beat the living bazooka out of me," she adds.
In January 2007, though, it was Alliegro who was arrested for allegedly holding Cosicher hostage at gunpoint. A police report states that after he refused to fly to Las Vegas to get remarried, she grabbed a .45-caliber pistol. "If you think your [dick] is powerful, this is mine," Alliegro allegedly said before firing a round into the ceiling. (Cosicher, who didn't respond to New Times' calls, later refused to press charges.)
Alliegro now claims Cosicher set her up. "If I am pointing a gun at you, wouldn't you run the hell out of there?" she asks.
Regardless, things only got worse for her. In 2009, the year she married her third hubby, former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, cops busted her for allegedly shoplifting a pair of $29.99 sandals. The charge was later dropped, but Carollo divorced her after just 83 days. A former cop, Carollo claimed in court papers he was afraid of Alliegro, who had "become irrational [and] abusive." "The husband genuinely fears for his safety," his attorney added, noting her use of "illegal narcotics and prescription pills."
Alliegro's lawyer called Carollo's allegations "scandalous and unfounded," and Alliegro now says it was Carollo who was abusive.
Throughout, Alliegro's ties to the local GOP deepened. Her runs at office never took off, but her consulting career was busy, with clients including former state Rep. Manuel Prieguez and former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre.
But her tightest relationship of all was with David Rivera. A mutual friend introduced them at Caffe Abracci in Coral Gables, and he called her as she was driving home. "The whole conversation was about movies," she says. "We are both movie buffs. We started hanging out."
In between her rocky marriages, Rivera was there for her. "In the 14 years I've known him, David has always been a gentleman," she says. "He's never raised his voice at me."
Once a rising star in Florida's GOP, though, the ex-congressman has become the most controversial politico in town over the past four years.
During his 2010 run for U.S. Congress, state and federal investigators opened a probe into whether he accepted more than $500,000 in secret payments from the owners of Flagler Dog Track to help pass slot-machine gambling. Last year, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office released documents showing prosecutors had prepared 52 charges, but the case did not move forward because a statute of limitations had expired. The FBI and IRS, meanwhile, opened their own investigations.
Buried in bad press, Rivera faced a stiff challenge from rising Democrat Joe Garcia last year. As Garcia prepared for his primary, Alliegro met a lumpy Miami Beach hotel employee named Justin Lamar Sternad, whom she took to lunch at Miller's Miami Falls Ale House to discuss his interest in entering politics.
"He insisted on running for Congress," says Alliegro, who told him to seek a less ambitious post. "I never enticed or induced him, much less handled any money."
She offered to help, though, because Sternad said he'd tighten the Cuban embargo. "Let's be clear: I was never Justin's campaign manager," Alliegro says. "He never paid me a dime."
Alliegro and Sternad became chums. She says he got her a room at the hotel where he worked, the Wyndham Garden in South Beach, for two weeks until her new apartment was ready.
The feds began probing Sternad in the days leading up to the primary, after the Miami Herald published a story quoting John Borrero, owner of Hialeah-based Rapid Mail & Computer Services, saying he was paid $47,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes delivered in part by Alliegro. Sternad's campaign was fishy because of its sophisticated mailers and lack of fundraising. (Sternad's attorney, Rick Yabor, didn't reply to a message from New Times.)
Alliegro staunchly denies ever delivering money to Rapid Mail. "Borrero is lying," she says. "I'm crazy, but I am not stupid."
Either way, shortly after the Herald stories, the FBI seized Alliegro's computer and iPad. Two weeks later, Miami police knocked on her door and arrested her for driving with a suspended license. "How do I get arrested for a suspended license when I wasn't even behind the wheel?" Alliegro says. "It was scary."
When she was released, Alliegro found TV-news trucks parked in front of her home and her parents' house. Her mother, Agueda, says the intense scrutiny took a toll. "My daughter and this family have suffered too much," Agueda says. "She has done nothing wrong."
So Alliegro bought a plane ticket to Nicaragua "to get the heck out of Dodge," she says. A few days later, on September 5, the feds returned, taking her computer, her cell phone, and other items.
Alliegro says her criminal defense lawyer, Mauricio Padilla, initially told her that day that the FBI didn't need to interview her. Later that evening, though, she says Padilla called, telling her she would have to meet with the FBI the following morning.
Instead, she hopped on her 9 a.m. flight to Managua.
Three weeks after Alliegro's disappearance, Sternad pleaded guilty to accepting illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy, and making a false statement. He admitted that Rivera was secretly behind his campaign and accused Alliegro of acting as his conduit, the Herald reported.
Alliegro now claims the Herald articles are based on "lies." She admits she wanted to lay low, but denies she left Miami because of the FBI. "Call me a fool — I thought the media attention would go away."
Yet Alliegro didn't disappear from her family's radar — or from Rivera's. While in Nicaragua, she has been in contact with the ex-congressman, according to emails New Times obtained. Alliegro confirmed the contents of some of the emails, which also suggest Rivera visited her at least twice in Nicaragua. (Rivera did not respond to two voicemail messages and emails to his two Comcast addresses.)
On November 4 at 3:43 a.m., two days before he lost to Garcia, Rivera emailed Alliegro an Expedia itinerary for a weekend stay from November 9 to 11 at the Hotel Punta Teonoste in Rivas, Nicaragua. About an hour later, Alliegro replied, "That's next to Morgan's Rock, which would cost you $1,934 for a two-night stay, plus it looks better."
Then, on Christmas Day, Alliegro sent Rivera an email with the subject line "Thank you for making my life better I love you very much." She wrote, "Please forgive my Haze but you caught me totally off guard. I am terrified my mind will stay damaged... xo."
(Alliegro tells New Times that she fell off a horse and suffered memory loss, hence the "haze.")
Rivera replied, "Landed safe and sound. I will start doing research to find medicinal remedies and other therapies for your memory loss. I've often heard fish can be helpful to regain memory lost from head injuries such as yours. Love you very much too."
Later that evening, Alliegro responded to an email from her dad, who was trying to persuade her to return to Miami. "I like it here away from the jerks," she wrote. "I will be back when I have made my fortune and healed from the damage the liberals have delivered upon me."
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Alliegro confirms she emailed Rivera but says her memory is still hazy from that fall. "I messed myself up bad."
She denies that Rivera visited her in Nicaragua and says she remembers sending him emails but doesn't recall him responding.
In a couple of weeks, Salon La Libertad will move to a cheaper locale on Calle Guzmán. Business has slowed since reports in Miami's Spanish-language media revealed that her dad trained Contras. Soon she'll have to return to Miami to renew her passport. When she does, she says, she won't dodge the FBI.
"I haven't abandoned my country," Alliegro says. "I feel my country has abandoned me. But if I have to testify, I will. Make no mistake about it — I will not take the Fifth. I will answer whatever questions they ask me."