Miami Lakes, Sweetwater mayors arrested on public corruption charges
FBI agents arrest Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño, 2 lobbyists
MIAMI – FBI agents on Tuesday arrested the mayors of Miami Lakes and Sweetwater on public corruption charges.
Maroño, 41, and Pizzi, 51, are charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official rights in separate cases. Both men posted bond Tuesday evening shortly after Gov. Rick Scott suspended them from office.
"This is disappointing," Scott said in a statement. "Public officials must be held to the highest standards. While we wait to see the evidence, the fact remains that elected officials must be held to the highest standard."
Lobbyists Richard Candia and Jorge Forte are both charged in Maroño's case, and Candia is also charged in Pizzi's. The two men surrendered to federal authorities Wednesday.
WATCH: Lobbyists connected to cases
"This is a sad day for South Florida," said Wifredo Ferrer, the U.S. State Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. "Our democracy suffers when, as in these cases, elected officials use their power and political influence for personal gain instead of for the public good."
According to the complaints, Candia introduced Maroño and Pizzi to undercover FBI agents posing as the owners of a Chicago-based grant administration business. The agents told Candia they could get federal grant moneys with the help of elected officials. The investigations began in 2011.
Maroño helped pass a resolution allowing the agents' company to apply for federal grant moneys on behalf of the city of Sweetwater, according to the complaint. Maroño and Forte then received $40,000 as payment. Candia received $5,000 in kickbacks.
Maroño and Forte received another $20,000 by introducing the agents to other elected officials, although no others participated, said Ferrer.
According to the complaint, Candia then introduced Pizzi to those same agents, who helped them apply for federal grant moneys in Miami Lakes and Medley, where he serves as town attorney.
"Pizzi backdated a document that endorsed the undercover agents' company and Pizzi also handled -- what he believed -- to be an audit telephone call from the federal grant auditors in order to confirm the grantee's performance on the grants, and during that call -- which was also recorded -- Pizzi lied and misled the auditor, who was in fact a FBI undercover agent," said Ferrer.
Maroño also lied to an undercover FBI agent posing as an auditor when asked about the company, according to the complaints.
If convicted, they each face up to 20 years in prison.
Maroño, a member of the Sweetwater City Commission since 1995, was elected mayor in 2003. He currently serves as president of the Florida League of Cities. He played a role in Gov. Rick Scott's transition team in 2011.
Pizzi, an attorney, was reelected as mayor in 2012. He once worked for a high-profile criminal defense firm in Miami.
Pizzi was expected to duke it out with Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez for a charity next week.
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