Ex-Miami congressman countersues over work with Venezuela

MIAMI (AP) — A former Miami congressman who was once roommates with Sen. Marco Rubio has countersued a U.S. affiliate of Venezuela’s state oil company in a politically charged dispute over a $50 million consulting contract he signed with Nicolás Maduro’s government.

David Rivera’s Interamerican Consulting filed the counterclaim in New York federal court Thursday against Delaware-registered PDV USA, alleging breach of contract or unjust enrichment for its failure to pay the $30 million balance of the agreed-to fee.

The contract with Rivera came to light as allies of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó work with the Justice Department to uncover any corrupt dealings at another Venezuelan-owned U.S. subsidiary, Houston-based Citgo, which for years operated as a cash cow for that country’s ruling party.

Parallel to the lawsuit, federal prosecutors have also been looking into whether Rivera and other recipients of large contracts with Venezuela were engaged in unregistered foreign lobbying for Maduro.

A Guaidó-appointed board wrested control of Citgo, the sixth-largest independent U.S. refiner, after the Trump administration recognized him as Venezuela’s rightful leader in 2019.

A lawsuit filed last year against Rivera by Citgo’s lawyers argues the former legislator performed almost no work as part of the $50 million contract to improve the state oil company’s reputation in the U.S. At the time, Maduro was trying to curry favor with the Trump administration, avoiding outright criticism of the U.S. leader while funneling $500,000 to his inaugural committee through Citgo.

Rivera, in his countersuit, argues that he was hired by Citgo — not PDVSA, as the state oil company is known — to develop a strategic plan to develop an independent identity separate from its controversial parent. While the amount was deemed suspiciously high by Citgo’s new management, Rivera argues that “considering the billions of dollars at stake with Citgo’s public and business stature in jeopardy, Citgo obviously deemed the fee reasonable.”

But PDV USA, the affiliate that managed the contract, never paid the final $30 million owed him under the agreement. Rivera says he performed all the required work and only received objections when the Venezuelan opposition took control of PDVSA’s U.S. assets.

Lawyers for Citgo did not immediately return a request for comment.

Rivera is a former high-ranking state legislator who shared a house in Tallahassee with Rubio, who was the state House speaker at the time. He has been embroiled in several election-related controversies since then, including orchestrating the stealth funding of an unknown Democratic candidate to take on his main rival in a South Florida congressional race and a state investigation into whether he hid a $1 million contract with a gambling company. He has never been charged with a crime.

Rivera served a single term in Congress, in 2011-2013, and during that time honored Venezuelan exiles fleeing socialist rule and co-sponsored legislation seeking to withhold funding from the Organization of American States until it confronted then President Hugo Chávez for allegedly violating Venezuela’s constitution.

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Joshua Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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