MIAMI — A judge on Thursday sentenced a failed South Florida congressional candidate to seven months in prison for campaign finance violations in a case linked to former U.S. Rep. David Rivera.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga ordered Justin Lamar Sternad to serve one year of probation after his release and 100 hours of community service. Sternad pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations, including accepting illegal contributions and filing false reports.
The case involves allegations that Rivera, a Republican, secretly financed Sternad's campaign to weaken Democratic rival Joe Garcia. Rivera has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, although close Rivera associate Ana Alliegro is also charged in the case. Rivera is again running for the House seat against Garcia after losing to him in 2012.
"You did begin with good intentions," Altonaga said of Sternad's initial desire to run for office, "but allowed yourself to be led astray and used by Ana Alliegro and others."
Sentencing guidelines called for 12 to 18 months behind bars. Sternad is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify in Alliegro's trial. He could see his sentence reduced further depending on the role he plays in her case. He must turn himself in by Sept. 26. Altonaga did not impose a fine, noting Sternad lacked the money to pay.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill had asked for a reduced sentence of 8 months but also stressed the seriousness of the crimes.
"He ran for one of the highest offices in the country on a totally false campaign," Mulvihill said, adding that voters should be able to know who is paying for a campaign in order to understand a candidate's positions.
During the hearing, Sternad read from a prepared statement.
"I hate to admit that I let Anna Alliegro and David Rivera take advantage of me," he said, adding that he wished he'd never heard their names. Sternad said he was conflicted in asking for leniency but did so for his five children and his wife, who home schools several of them. She cried quietly in court.
Altonaga acknowledged Sternad's remorse and his efforts to help the government. She also suggested Sternad's wife needed to start looking for outside work.
"My sentence does not need to deter you," she said. "It needs to deter others."
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