Reporting Natalia Zea
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Justin Lamar Sternad, a former Democratic Congressional candidate, surrendered Friday morning to federal officials to face charges related to his campaign finances.
Sternad, 35, faces three charges including: conspiracy to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission and to violate the contribution limits of the Federal Election Campaign Act, making a false statement, and accepting illegal campaign contributions.
Each count carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count.
Sternad made his initial court appearance Friday afternoon and was given a $100,000 bond, which he was expected to post Friday. Sternad plead not guilty to the charges.
The judge in the case said Sternad was prohibited from traveling, must give up his passport, can’t enter a train station, airport, or port, but will be allowed to take the bus after he said he needed it for transportation.
The charges follow investigative pieces by the Herald and El Nuevo Herald that found discrepancies in the finances of his failed bid to beat now-Congressman Joe Garcia in the 2012 Democratic primary.
The FBI started an investigation into Sternad and found that his reports may have concealed up to $100,000 in services and mailers, according to the Herald.
Sternad had never sought public office before launching his campaign against Garcia. The eventual Democratic winner had to knock off then-Congressman David Rivera in the general election, which was expected due to Rivera’s plummeting popularity and possible ties to Sternad.
The Herald reported that Rivera’s close friend, Ana Alliegro, worked as Sternad’s campaign manager and “repeatedly delivered fat stacks of cash to Rapid Mail & Computer Service, owner John Borrero told both newspapers and the FBI.”
A separate vendor, Hugh Cochran of Campaign Data, also alleged to the Herald and the FBI that he spoke directly with Rivera about computer searches to identify voters to send the mailers to during the primary.
Sternad said in campaign-finance records that he had no campaign vendors and only raised $11,383.60. The mailers that were distributed cost far in excess of $11,000 and after the Herald reported on the large cash payments, Sternad said he loaned himself $64,356 for the campaign, according to the Herald.
Based on the Herald’s earlier reports, the $64,000 loan would have been a “huge sum for someone whose assets were minimal,” the Herald reported Friday.
Alliegro was supposed to talk to the FBI last September, but ran before she had to talk to authorities. Her family initially denied knowing her whereabouts, but she’s allegedly been in contact with them since, according to the Herald.
According to the Herald, Sternad has been cooperating with authorities, but never came directly in contact with Rivera, which was allegedly Alliegro’s job. The Herald reported Alliegro referred to Rivera as “D.R.” or as “The Gangster.”
The multiple investigations into Rivera, including the one with Sternad, helped bring down the Congressman during the 2012 elections. Rivera, who has in the past worked closely with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, lost by more than 10 points to Garcia last November.
An unnamed con-conspirator was listed on the indictment, but that person hasn’t been charged yet.
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