Wiss said her law firm does not and never has provided lobbying services, She added that the firm never invoiced or ever received payment from PDVSA or any non-U.S. related party — suggesting that half of the contract went unpaid.
“Wiss was engaged to provide PDV USA and its affiliates with legal services only,” she wrote in an e-mailed response to questions.
But the Guaido-appointed board of PDV USA deemed that the hiring of Wiss, Rivera and a third company, Caribbean Style Inc., required it to register under foreign lobbying rules. The Texas-based Caribbean Style was paid $625,000 to place four full-page advertisements in the New York Times and Washington Post.
“The pro-Venezuelan and anti-U.S. sanctions content of these advertisements suggests they were intended to influence the U.S. government or the U.S. public’s perspective of the U.S. sanctions regime rating to Venezuela,” PDV USA said in its filing, which is dated. Dec. 31.
In total, PDVSA sent $89 million to PDV USA between 2015 and March 2017 to pay U.S.-based vendors, according to the filing, which was first reported by Foreign Lobby Report, an online news service that tracks the influence industry.
PDV USA said Wiss provided updates on disputes involving PDVSA and advice on immigration, insurance, and cryptocurrency.
But it added that “PDV USA is unaware of the full extent of the legal work that Wiss may have been performing under the retainer,” suggesting that what Guaido-appointed officials consider a high fee may have covered additional services for which it has no record. The AP could find no record of Wiss appearing on behalf of PDV USA or PDVSA in federal court or in the large number of commercial claims against Venezuela before a World Bank arbitration panel.
Wiss wouldn’t say what legal services she performed, or whether she had traveled to Caracas as part of her work, citing lawyer-client privilege. “Your information is false and you are being again misled,” she added.
Lawyers for Citgo’s new board sued a consulting firm owned by Rivera last year for allegedly not fulfilling its obligations under the contract. According to the lawsuit, Rivera, the former roommate of fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, failed to describe any work that his firm, Interamerican Consulting, had actually performed, preparing just two of seven promised bi-weekly progress reports while collecting the first $15 million of the agreed-to $50 million.
The goal of the contract was to improve PDVSA’s “long-term reputation” and “standing” among “targeted stakeholders” in the U.S., according to a copy seen by the AP.
Rivera’s political career unraveled amid several election-related controversies, 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’s business deal is also under federal criminal investigation in Miami because Rivera never registered with the Justice Department, which would be required when lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of a foreign government.
Wiss also never registered as a foreign agent and there is no indication that she herself is under investigation.
Wiss was a longtime lawyer at Hogan Lovells, where PDVSA was a client, before starting her own boutique firm, Wiss & Partners, in 2016.