MIAMI — Citing his extensive and ongoing cooperation with investigators, a federal judge on Friday sharply reduced the prison sentence for a former U.S. House candidate embroiled in a campaign finance probe linked to ex-Rep. David Rivera.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga cut Justin Sternad's prison term from seven months to 30 days, followed by three months of house arrest. Although Sternad's attorney, Rick Yabor, had requested no prison time, the judge said it was necessary to deter others.
"It does warrant some time served, some time for additional reflection," Altonaga said.
Sternad and co-defendant Ana Alliegro admitted scheming to provide more than $80,000 in secret financing to Sternad's candidacy in the 2012 Democratic House 26th District primary in an attempt to weaken eventual winner Joe Garcia. They say Rivera, a Republican, was ultimately behind the plan, but he has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.
Altonaga noted a disparity because Alliegro last week received a six-month sentence despite having a greater role in the conspiracy than Sternad, a previously unknown candidate who Yabor said initially got into House race for legitimate reasons. Before her arrest, Alliegro was a political consultant with close ties to Rivera.
"She's the one who controlled everything, getting him involved in this dirty deal," the judge said.
Despite Sternad's candidacy, Garcia defeated Rivera in the 2012 general election and is now seeking re-election against Republican Carlos Curbelo. Rivera, a former state representative and close friend of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, finished a distant fourth in August in an attempted comeback in the Republican primary.
The big question now is whether Rivera will also be charged. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill said Alliegro has met at least twice with the FBI and Sternad repeated Friday that he is ready to testify against the former congressman.
"I am going to continue to cooperate with the government," Sternad said.
Sternad is scheduled to report to prison Nov. 3 — the day before this year's election. Alliegro had been jailed since her arrest in March and has therefore completed her prison term.
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