It's hard out there for an intrepid TV reporter -- and it's also quite wet.
Miami Local 10 senior political reporter Michael Putney got drenched Wednesday by a bucket of water to the face from the wife of a novice politician at the center of a scandal involving a Florida congressman, a gun-firing "conservative bad girl" campaign manager, and bag fulls of cash.
It was a made-for-YouTube moment only Miami could make: Putney was soaked knocking at the door of Justin Lamar Sternad, a former night shift hotel worker who ran as an alleged ringer candidate in the August Democratic primary for Congressional District 25 -- then reportedly told FBI investigators that the district's embattled Republican incumbent Congressman David Rivera was the shadowy figure funding his campaign under the table.
Putney, to be fair, was asking for it. "Have respect! We have 5 small children!" read a sign on Sternad's front door, asking media to direct their inquiries to his attorney. "Trespassers will be WET!" (Watch video of the incident above.)
Putney laughed off the water in a segment aired Wednesday night. But Rivera, who remains under a previous federal investigation for potential tax violations, is facing very serious allegations in ongoing probes by the FBI and Miami-Dade Police.
Sternad came in third in the Democratic August primary, but seemed to run a fishy campaign from the start. His mailings attacked Rivera's eventual opponent Joe Garcia, but never the Congressman, and the former "Justin Sternad" raised even more eyebrows when he suddenly began campaigning as "Lamar" in an apparent bid to capture the votes of African-Americans.
And when it was clear that $47,000 in campaign mailers couldn't have been paid for by the $11,262 in the "Vote Lamar" coffers, rumors surfaced the campaign was orchestrated by Republican operatives. ("Kiss my lily-white ass," Sternad emailed a Miami Herald reporter in response.)
A vendor told the Herald it was Rivera who was behind the mailings, which were sometimes paid for with envelopes stuffed with cash. Though Sternad filed amended finance reports indicating he loaned his campaign more than $60,000, tax records indicate that is unlikely considering his relatively low income.
The investigation took another turn when Ana Alliegro, Sternad's campaign manager and Rivera's alleged go-between, disappeared after failing to appear for an interview with prosecutors. Records show the self-professed "Republican Political Guru and Conservative Bad Girl!" -- who was married to former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo for 83 days in 2009 before he claimed to fear for his life -- once fired a gun at another ex-husband while naked during a reported bid for reconciliation.
The Herald reports Sternad told federal investigators this week that though he never met Rivera, he knew he was the man putting unreported cash behind his campaign:
Sternad said Alliegro referred to the congressman by his initials, “D.R.,” and called him by the nickname, “The Gangster."
...Sternad has acknowledged to the feds that he never met Rivera, the sources said, a point that the Republican congressman has long claimed.
But Sternad — using Facebook and Twitter — found pictures of Alliegro and Rivera together and determined that Rivera was the mystery “investor” so enthralled with his candidacy. The political newcomer...said he continued with the scheme because Alliegro told him that “D.R.” would get him a better job to support his wife and five kids if he lost.
"Congressman Rivera has never met Mr. Sternad, has never spoken to Mr. Sternad, knows nothing about Mr. Sternad and has no connection whatsoever to Mr. Sternad or his campaign," his office told the Associated Press last month. "Congressman Rivera will continue to focus on important issues facing our country, such as the need to improve the economy and create jobs."