PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. - Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis is one of several people from whom now suspended Sweetwater Mayor Manny Marono has been ordered by the court to stay away.
Ortis calls Marono and Miami Lakes mayor Michael Pizzi personal friends. He knows them through their affiliation with the Florida League of Cities, an organization of which Marono was president until his arrest yesterday.
It's through that connection Ortis says Marono encouraged him last year to take a look at the Sunshine Grant company.
"Mayor Marono lobby's for other companies and asked me to bring some things to the city which he did with other mayors, and I did," said Ortis.
Lobbyist Jorge Forte, Marono's long time friend and alleged accomplice, made his pitch to the city in August of 2012.
"The company that I work with, we specialize in assisting small to medium sized municipalities with funding, grants and things of that nature," said Forte.
Forte explained the whole deal from the podium, how his company would get the federal grant money and do an economic development study for the city. Commissioners were intrigued by the offer, but pressed Forte for details.
"Where do you work? Where is your office? What is some of your history on some of the other things that you've done?" commissioners asked.
Ortis said he was never offered any money by Forte or Marono, and as far as he knew at the time, the company was legit.
Commissioners ultimately turned down the offer to hire Sunshine, and Ortis said he forgot about it until yesterday when his friends were arrested by the Feds.
"Why didn't you take the bait?" Local 10's Roger Lohse asked Ortis.
He replied, "It wasn't good for our city."
So far, Ortis has not been contacted by the feds to discuss his contact with Marono about the grant company, but he is listed in federal court documents as a possible witness.
"I had a professor once tell me if it doesn't smell good, it probably isn't. I always remember that," said Ortis.
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