A former Miami congressman who signed a $50m consulting contract with Venezuela's socialist government was arrested on Monday on charges of money laundering and representing a foreign government without registering.
David Rivera, a Republican who served in the US House from 2011 to 2013, was arrested at Atlanta's airport, authorities said. An eight-count indictment against him alleges he was part of a conspiracy to lobby on behalf of Venezuela to improve US-Venezuela relations, resolve an oil company legal dispute and end American economic sanctions against the South American nation - without registering as a foreign agent.
The indictment cites meetings in Washington, New York and elsewhere that Rivera is described as setting up with senators, Congress members and White House officials, none of whom are named.
In July 2017, for example, Rivera allegedly wrote in text messages to an unnamed American senator: "Remember, US should facilitate, not just support, a negotiated solution," and "No vengeance, reconciliation."
Pressure has been building on Rivera for more than two years after it emerged that he received the huge contract from a US affiliate of Venezuela's state-owned oil company as the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, tried to curry favor with the Donald Trump White House.
Rivera's Interamerican Consulting was sued in 2020 by PDV USA - a Delaware-based affiliate of Venezuelan-owned Citgo - alleging the former congressman performed no work as part of the contract he signed in 2017 for three months of "strategic consulting" meant to build bridges with key US stakeholders.
In the indictment, prosecutors say that in October 2017 Rivera sent a text message acknowledging he should register to lobby for the Venezuelan government, otherwise "my attorney has told me [it] is currently illegal … and not to touch it with a 50-foot pole, but it would be a scandal of monumental proportions."
Although Rivera's contract was with a US entity, any work he performed on behalf of Maduro's government or Venezuelan business interests required him to register as a foreign lobbyist.
Rivera, 57, has maintained his innocence and has countersued PDV USA, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment and that the company owes him $30m. A lawyer for Rivera told the Associated Press he had not immediately seen the indictment, and the former lawmaker did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Officials said Rivera bailed out of jail on Monday afternoon after making an initial appearance in Atlanta federal court.
The Associated Press contributed reporting