Sweetwater vice mayor 'surprised' by arrest

FBI agents arrest Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño, 2 lobbyists

Pictured: Sweetwater Vice Mayor Jose M Diaz (left) and Mayor Manuel Maroo (right)
Pictured: Sweetwater Vice Mayor Jose M Diaz (left) and Mayor Manuel Maroo (right)

SWEETWATER, Fla. – Jose M. Diaz, the vice mayor of Sweetwater, said he was "totally surprised" when Mayor Manuel Maroño was arrested Tuesday.

FBI agents arrested Maroño and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi in separate public corruption cases. Florida Gov. Rick Scott suspended both mayors later in the day.

Diaz said he spoke with Maroño before his arrest.

"He's a straight-forward man, a man of his word," said Diaz. "When he says this is gonna be like this, this is what he does, and really, I am very sad that I have to take over this position in such a manner."

Read: Manuel Maroño complaint |

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 Scott's transition team in 2011.

According to a criminal complaint, lobbyist Richard Candia introduced Maroño 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.

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 Jorge Forte, another lobbyist, 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.

Ileana Lopez, Maroño's neighbor, described him as a nice man whose dedication to public service always seemed genuine.

"Because he's always doing stuff for the community," she said. "You know they've always done different kinds of parties at the parks for the community and giving back, so this is kind of a shock. I never would have expected anything like this. I mean, I still don't believe it."

On Wednesday, Diaz issued a statement saying: "I will continue to lead the city in a professional fashion with the highest level of integrity. The sentiment is the same for all administration and staff. There will be no gaps in service to our residents or community."