Former Republican Rep. David Rivera of Florida was arrested Monday in Atlanta on federal charges that include failure to register as a foreign agent and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the Justice Department.
The eight-count indictment alleges that Rivera and a co-defendant, Esther Nuhfer, met with several U.S. officials to normalize U.S. relations with the Venezuelan government without registering with the DOJ, as required. the law
Rivera, who is Cuban-American, received millions of dollars for his work for PDV USA, a U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, to lobby U.S. politicians to improve relations between the two nations, according to the ‘accusation, and prevent “. the United States from imposing additional economic sanctions” against the president of Venezuela and “other members of his regime”.
U.S. officials said Rivera signed a $50 million contract with PDV USA in 2017.
Rivera served in Congress from 2011 to 2013.
Rivera’s lawyer and the Venezuelan government declined CNN’s request for comment on the charges. An attorney for Nuhfer also declined to comment on the charges.
The indictment details several meetings between Rivera and U.S. officials, including an unnamed U.S. senator representing Florida and a congressman from Texas. Prosecutors said Rivera also tried to meet with a White House adviser to then-President Donald Trump.
In 2017, according to the indictment, Rivera met with the senator at a private residence in Washington, DC, “during which Rivera told (the senator) that Foreign Individual 1 had persuaded President (Nicolas) Maduro to accept a agreement by which he would hold free and fair elections in Venezuela”, in exchange for “reconciliation with the United States”.
A second meeting was held at a hotel in Washington, DC, with an unidentified Venezuelan politician by telephone.
“The ultimate goal of these efforts was to obtain political support in the United States for the normalization of relations between the United States and Venezuela, to include the resolution of a legal dispute between the US oil company 1 and Venezuela and prevent the United States from imposing additional economic sanctions against President Maduro and other members of his regime,” according to the government.
In 2018, the group helped arrange for a member of Congress to meet with Maduro. The group met with the Venezuelan leader on April 2, 2018. During the meeting, the unnamed congressman agreed to deliver a letter to Maduro’s Trump calling for “United States support for President Maduro’s plan to normalize relations in exchange for a promise to hold free and fair elections in the future.”
Sen. Marco Rubio’s office confirmed to CNN on Wednesday that the Florida Republican met with Rivera in 2017 and later met with a close Maduro aide.
During the meeting, “Senator Rubio directly communicated what he has said publicly for more than five years, that the only way to lift the sanctions is if the regime accepts free and fair elections. If, as alleged, this was an effort to soften his stance on sanctions, it failed miserably,” a spokesman for Rubio told CNN. The spokesman also pointed to the fact that the indictment noted that the group never told Rubio they were lobbying on behalf of Venezuela.
Rubio is not named in the indictment and has not been charged with a crime.
The maximum sentence for the conspiracy charge is five years, while the maximum sentence for failure to register as a foreign agent is five years and the maximum sentence for the money laundering count is 20 years. The maximum sentence for the five counts of engaging in transactions with the proceeds of criminal activity is 10 years each.
The government is seeking forfeiture of $23.7 million, plus various real estate, according to the indictment.