Mayor, lobbyist arraigned on corruption charges

Manny Maroño, Jorge Forte plead not guilty

MIAMI – Former Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and his former chief of staff, Jorge Forte, pleaded not guilty to corruption charges in Miami federal court on Friday morning.

Both 41-year-old men appeared before Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton but let their lawyers do the talking for them. According to criminal complaints, Maroño and Forte took $40,000 in bribes and kickbacks from undercover FBI agents posing as federal grant writers, then another $20,000 to introduce the agents to other elected officials.

Rather than a grand jury indictment, both are charged in what's called an "information" by the U.S. Attorney's office, which indicates they are cooperating with authorities.

Upon leaving the courthouse, neither Maroño nor his attorney would comment except to say they'll let the judicial process play out. Forte's attorney, David Weinstein, said his client deeply regrets what happened "and is doing everything in his power to make it right," indicating that Forte is working with the FBI and prosecutors.

No trial date has been set and it's likely both Maroño and Forte will enter into a plea deal.

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has also pleaded not guilty. He has said that he wants his case to go to trial.