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Former Congressman Rivera bought properties for $800,000 in Florida while under federal investigation

David Rivera, a former South Florida congressman made the real estate purchases with "his wife", a 27-year-old Belarusian professor, after signing a contract for $50 million with the Venezuelan government, according to public records. (Leer en español)
2 Jun 2020 – 03:47 PM EDT
David Rivera and Safiya Prysmakova. Crédito: AP / Linkedin/ David Maria / Univision

While under investigated by federal authorities for alleged acts of corruption in relation to the Venezuelan government, former congressman David Rivera bought two properties in Florida along with a young Belarusian university professor who is listed as his wife in the deeds.

Rivera and Safiya Prysmakova, 27, a former associate professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), paid a little more than half a million dollars in late 2017 for a house in Oviedo, near Orlando, according to property records.

The house on Pink Dogwood Avenue in Oviedo has five bedrooms, four bathrooms and has solar energy panels.

Earlier that year, Rivera's consulting firm had received $15 million as part of a $50 million contract from a U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, to improve the company's reputation, according to a civil lawsuit filed in New York against Interamerican Consulting.

Public records do not reflect that the properties were acquired by Rivera and his wife with a mortgage loan, suggesting that they were paid in cash, according to real estate experts consulted by Univision.

Apart from the house Oviedo, Rivera and Prysmakova acquired a two-bedroom beachfront apartment in New Smyrna, Florida in March 2019, for $301,000. Prysmakova also appears in the deeds as Rivera's wife.

The title company said it was up to buyers to "enter their own information" into the property documents.

Rivera's public records do not show any evidence of his being married. Rivera did not respond to Univision’s questions about the acquisition of the Florida properties and his relationship with the professor.

In 2013, when he left the US Congress, amid a series of scandals, Rivera’s sources of income were not clear. In his public statements, he claimed that he received funds from the International Development Agency (USAID), but The Miami Herald verified that the agency had no record of payments to the former congressman.

Professor of Public Administration

Prysmakova, who also did not reply to messages to her university email and social networks, uses the former congressman's second last name in some of her academic works. Among them is the book by her co-author ‘Poor Participation: Fighting the Wars on Poverty and Impoverished Citizenship,’ that he published in 2018 together with Professor Thomas Bryer. There she appears as Sofía Prysmakova-Rivera.

Bryer did not respond to messages seeking comment.

According to a UCF spokesperson, until April this year Prysmakova worked as an adjunct professor at the faculty of Public Administration. She obtained a PhD in from the same university in 2019. According to her academic resumes she speaks Russian, Belarusian and German.

Several other Prysmakova friends and associates listed on social media accounts and UCF event she attended, declined to respond to Univision's requests for comment.

According to her Linkedin account, she began her higher education at the School of Public Administration in Bialystok, Poland, and she obtained a master of arts from the University of Warsaw and another in business administration from the University of Bergamo in Italy.

She published a thesis on the United States government's efforts to assist the displaced population from Puerto Rico in central Florida after Hurricane Maria.

Rivera's PDVSA contract

Rivera, 54, was born in New York to a Puerto Rican father and a Cuban mother. He is known for his harsh criticism of the Cuban government, alongside his Republican colleague and close friend, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.

Sources told The Miami Herald newspaper that Rivera and Rubio exhanged phone calls and text messages at the time of the contract with the PDVSA affiliate. But, Rubio has said he only found out about the contract after the subsidiary, now under the control of President Juan Guaidó, filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Rivera's firm.

Several sources told Univision last week that Rivera has been under federal investigation since 2017 for ties to the Nicolás Maduro regime. According to sources, Rivera did not register as a foreign agent despite the fact that his firm accepted the contract with the PDVSA subsidiary.

The sources also indicated that Rivera made bank deposits of amounts less than $10,000 to avoid bank reporting requirements under money laundering regulations. The Miami Herald reported that Rivera gave $4 million in 2017 to a company owned by Venezuelan media magnate Raúl Gorrín, and another $3.5 million to his former political campaign manager, who also worked for Rubio.

It is unknown where the rest of the millions in the contract ended or if Rivera could have used funds there for the house and condo.

Rivera initially denied the versions that he was under federal investigation, calling them "fake news," and saying he made "zero" profit from the contract.

Later, the former congressman said that the money he received from the PDVSA affiliate was shared with Venezuelan opposition leaders, but he yet to provide financial records to show that it what happened to the money.

( This article was corrected to reflect that Rivera was born in New York, not Puerto Rico, according to public records.)