Exclusive: Miami New Times Finds David Rivera's Missing Pal Ana Alliegro
In the lakeside tourist city of Granada, Nicaragua, visitors 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 slim 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 small store selling handmade bracelets and the home of Granada's Roman Catholic bishop, Solá's salon offers haircuts, dye jobs, and manicures to the tourists 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 on 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, they say, ran that ringer's campaign and ferried envelopes stuffed with unreported cash to a company making promotional materials.
Through multiple sources, New Times confirmed that Alliegro had landed in Granada. Confronted on her cell phone, Alliegro agrees 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 that 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 compares herself to the title character played by comedian 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.
Alliegro was born March 7, 1970. 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, who grew up with former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez in Santiago de Cuba, made a failed bid for the Florida Legislature in 1998. He made a living as a security consultant, allegedly helping to train the Contras - the U.S.-funded rebels fighting the Soviet-backed Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Her grandad was a big part of El Exilio, assisting scores of Cubans fleeing Castro's regime by providing them with free apartments until they got their feet off the ground. He was also known for paying for the funeral services of his fellow countrymen and doing other favors for Cubans in Miami. "Her grandfather was a great man," says Alliegro's mother, Agueda. "She comes from a very honorable family."
Alliegro attended St. Hugh Catholic School and later Immaculata-La Salle High School, where she graduated in 1988. Her own love affair with conservative politics 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 twinned her staunch politics with a stormy personal life. A month after graduation, she married a man named Alexander Niebla. Their union lasted just seven months, ending in a January 1989 divorce. Yet they soon got back together, marrying for a second time on November 11, 1989. The couple had a daughter, but the marriage fell apart again after two and a half years. In January 1992, she divorced Niebla.
Alliegro soon enrolled in Miami-Dade College, taking courses in criminal justice and international affairs, then began pursuing a law degree. But conservative politics never stopped beckoning, driven in part by her then-boyfriend, state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla.
Her own political office seeking ventures were halting and unsuccessful, though; separate 2001 runs against state Rep. Carlos Lacasa and County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa both ended in defeat.
Her personal life didn't fare much better. In 2003, she married Moshe Cosicher, a developer 20 years older; she was wife number four of five. Their marriage lasted two years, with him filing for divorce in March 2005. Two months later, Alliegro filed a domestic violence complaint in Broward County against Cosicher. She says he threatened her with a knife and repeatedly punched her in the face at their home in Plantation. "He beat the living bazooka out of me," she says. However, she didn't press charges.
Cosicher flipped the script two years later, though. In January 2007, she was arrested at her Tigertail Avenue home for allegedly holding Cosicher hostage at gunpoint. A police report says after he refused to fly to Las Vegas to get remarried, she grabbed a .45 caliber pistol, sat naked at a desk with her leg up, and compared the gun to a penis. "If you think your [expletive] is powerful (showing the gun), this is mine," Alliegro allegedly told Cosicher.
Alliegro then fired a round into the ceiling, saying: "You see. It's loaded -- this is business." (Cosicher later refused to press charges so a felony count of false imprisonment was dropped. She served six months of probation and received a withheld adjudication on two misdemeanors.)
Alliegro insists that Cosicher set her up. "If I am pointing a gun at you, wouldn't you run the hell out of there?" she asks rhetorically. "He was upset because I notified State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle that he scammed me out of money."
Things only got worse for Alliegro. 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 from Ross on Biscayne Boulevard. The charge was later dropped. In 2010, Carollo divorced her after only 83 days of marriage. A former police officer, Carollo claimed he feared Alliegro, who "has become irrational (and) abusive," his lawyer wrote in court papers. "The husband genuinely fears for his safety," he added, noting her use of "illegal narcotics and prescription pills."
Alliegro's lawyer called Carollo's allegations "scandalous and unfounded," and accused the former mayor of perjury. Carollo's lawyers filed an amended divorce complaint that did not mention the scurrilous accusations. Alliegro says it was Carollo who was abusive to her.
"Yes, I've had very tumultous relationships," she says today. "I have my past. But I've never shied away from it. This is who I am."
Throughout all those turbulent marriages, Alliegro's own political efforts continued to falter - like her failed 2010 race against Rep. Michael Bileca. Although she earned a modest income with her consulting career. In 2011, she made $42,000 from her political gigs, financial disclosures show. Her clients included former state Rep. Manuel Prieguez, former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, and current Rep. Frank Artiles.
Before they seemed destined for one another, Alliergo was part of the team that tried to derail Rivera's first political run for state representative, back in 2002. While working for Rivera's underfunded opponent, Ray Gonzalez, she showed she could get nasty.
"We are going to hit him," Alliegro says she told her client. "We got to go negative." So she helped created a mail piece alleging a man with the same name as Rivera's in 1994 committed "repeated acts of domestic violence" against a Miami woman, according to court records. Rivera has steadfastly denied hitting or even knowing the alleged accuser.
Her perception of Rivera changed a year later when they were formally introduced through a mutual friend at Cafe Abracci in Coral Gables. 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. I would go over to his place and he'd come over to mine."
In between her rocky marriages and volatile divorces, Rivera was there for her, Alliegro confides. "In the 14 years I've known him, David has always been a gentleman," she says. "He's never raised his voice at me or treated me unkindly."
Nevertheless, she's never been Rivera's patsy, Alliegro scoffs. Once a rising star in Florida's Republican Party, the ex-Congressman has become the most controversial scandal-plagued politician in Miami.
During his 2010 run for federal office, state and federal investigators opened a criminal probe that he accepted more than $500,000 in secret payments from the owners of the Flagler Dog Track to help pass slot machine gambling in Miami-Dade when he was a state legislator. He did not report the income on his financial disclosure forms.
Last year, the State Attorney's Office released documents showing prosecutors had prepared a list of 52 charges against Rivera. However, the case did not move forward because a statute of limitations had expired. The FBI and IRS opened their own investigations into the Congressman, who landed on several of Capitol Hill's "Most Corrupt" watch lists.
Faced with those challenges -- plus a newly redistricted election to win -- Rivera faced a stiff challenge from rising Democrat Joe Garcia, a former Obama administration appointee, last year.
As Garcia prepared for a primary election, Alliegro admits she first met a lumpy Miami Beach hotel employee named Justin Lamar Sternad, who she took out to eat at Miller's Miami Falls Ale House in the spring of 2012.
The feds started probing Sternad in the days leading up to the primary, after a joint Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald investigative report quoted 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 to print mailers for Sternad.
The campaign was fishy because of Sternad's sophisticated mailers, lack of apparent fundraising, and refusal to attack Rivera. The lily-white candidate, the Herald suggested, was a Trojan horse funded by Rivera to smear Garcia.
But Alliegro tells a very different story of her involvement with Sternad. At that first meeting at Miller's Ale House, she says she told the green candidate to run for a less ambitious post, like a seat on the Palmetto Bay Town Council.
"He insisted on running for Congress," she says. "I never enticed or induced him, much less handled any money." She did offer to help the newbie candidate because he said he'd tighten the Cuban embargo. But Alliegro says that she never directed Sternad's run for office.
"Let's be clear: I was never Justin's campaign manager," Alliegro says. "He never paid me a dime."
In the months before the primary, Alliegro and Sternad became chums. "I even stayed with Justin for a couple of weeks when my new apartment wasn't ready," Alliegro asserts. "He is a nice guy. I hope his life turns out well."
Alliegro also denies ever delivering money to Borrero or anyone else at Rapid Mail on behalf of Rivera. "Borrero is lying," she says. "I'm crazy, but I am not stupid."
(Sternad's attorney Rick Yabor declined to respond to Alliegro's version of events.)
On August 26 the feds and Miami Police showed up at her doorstep. While agents searched her home, the cops arrested her on an outstanding warrant from Osceola County. She had failed to pay a ticket and her license had been suspended. "How do I get arrested for a suspended license when I wasn't even behind the wheel?" Alliegro says. "Then I got lost in the jail system for 16 hours. It was scary."
When she was released from jail, Alliegro says she had to deal with TV news trucks parked in front of her home and her parents' house. "All I wanted to do was get the heck out of dodge," she says. "I wanted the media to leave my family in peace."
Her mother, Agueda, tells New Times the intense media scrutiny has taken a toll on her health. "My daughter and this family have suffered too much," Agueda says. "She has done nothing wrong."
Alliegro says she had already bought her plane ticket to Nicaragua days before the FBI came by her residence a second time on September 5, taking her computer, her cellphone, and other items. Her criminal defense lawyer, Mauricio Padilla, told her the FBI didn't need her statement because they had gotten everything they were looking for, Alliegro and her mom claim. (Padilla declined comment.)
The same day, she met with Rivera, according to the Herald. Later that evening, shortly after 10:30 p.m., Alliegro says Padilla called, now telling her she had to meet with the FBI and assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Mulvihill the following morning.
Instead, she hopped on her morning flight to Managua, Nicaragua's capital.
Three weeks after her disappearance, Sternad allegedly admitted to the feds that Rivera was secretly behind his run for office. He allegedly accused Alliegro of acting as the conduit between the campaign and Rivera. According to the Herald's account of Sternad's testimony, Alliegro referred to Rivera as "D.R." and "The Gangster."
Alliegro claims all the Herald articles written about her 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," she says. "That's not what's happened."
Yet Alliegro didn't disappear from her family's radar - or from Rivera's. The whole time she's been in Nicaragua, Alliegro has been in contact with her father and Rivera, according to emails New Times obtained from a source who helped us track her down.
Alliegro confirmed the contents of some of the emails, which suggest that Rivera went to visit her at least twice in Nicaragua. (He did not respond to two voicemails on his cellphone and emails to his two Comcast addresses requesting comment for this story.)
Rivera booked a two-night stay for two adults in a one-bedroom bungalow at the Hotel Punta Teonoste Resort
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 on November 9 through November 10 in a one-bedroom villa at the Hotel Punta Teonoste in Rivas, a city on the southwestern Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. The reservation is under his name and the $240.42 hotel bill was charged to Rivera's credit card. The resort website shows amenities include horse riding, surfing and yoga.
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 emailed Rivera with the subject line: "Thank you for making my life better I love you very much." She writes, "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 while riding near Granada and has suffered memory loss since then.)
Rivera replies, "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."
A couple of minutes later, Alliegro responds, "thank you Santa Pete I will call u after the Dr. Enjoy your Christmas with the family I love you. I will miss you :-(."
Later that evening, Alliegro responds to an email from her dad, who was trying to convince her to come back to Miami. "I like it here away from the jerks," she writes. "I have a great life and I am not in bad emotional state. Quite the opposite. I am very proud of my accomplishment."
Alliegro informs her dad that she had opened her own beauty salon, waking up at six in the morning to work 16 hours a day. "I will be back when I have made my fortune and healed from the damage the liberals have delivered upon me," she proclaims, before signing off. "Ciao."
During the first ten days of January, Alliegro fires off several emails to Rivera complaining about her third-world start-up problems. "Someone kicked in the door today," she grumbles in one missive. "The bathroom faucet will not turn off. I am videotaping it now. Love you, Davie."
About two weeks later, things were looking up for Alliegro. According to a January 22 email sent to Rivera with the subject line, "Bb we broke the bank today :-) made $125 with 5 customers," she tells him two Americans, a Candian, a Nicaraguan, and an Australian came in for haircuts and massages. "I waxed two Peace Corps. girls pro bono," she writes. "They were broke and young. Luv u muah!"
In an ecstatic reply the following morning, Rivera gushes: "I freakin' love it! Everytime I see these pictures I almost want to cry. I'm so very proud of you. You actually know what the hell you are doing. I pray every day that this venture works and your expansion vision comes to fruition. Very exciting. Love you too."
When asked about the emails, Alliegro confirms she emailed Rivera but tells New Times that her memory is still hazy from that fall from a horse. "You have no idea the dare devil stunts I've pulled down here," she says. "I messed myself up bad."
She denies that Rivera ever visited her in Nicaragua. She remembers sending him emails, but she doesn't recall him ever responding.
Alliegro acknowledges life in Nicaragua is hard. "I started a business with the little money I have," she says. "I have been struggling to make it work."
In a couple of weeks, she adds, Salon La Libertad will be moving into a cheaper locale on Calle Guzman about a half-a-block away where she is now. She says business has slowed down since news reports by America Teve and Diario Las Americas revealed she had gone to Nicaragua.
"It was working fine until the media started up again," Alliegro attests. "Letting people know what my father did is only adding fuel to the fire."
Regardless, she soon has to return to Miami in order to renew her American 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."
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.
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