Former Sweetwater mayor, lobbyist plead guilty in corruption case

Manuel Maroño, Jorge Forte to be sentenced in January

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Former Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño and his former chief of staff, Jorge Forte, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.

The two were charged with receiving $40,000 in kickbacks from undercover FBI agents who applied for federal grant monies on behalf of the city of Sweetwater. They previously pleaded not guilty.

"First of all, I want to apologize to my family and the constituents of the city of Sweetwater. I'm proud of the accomplishments in 18 years that we've done for this city, the progress that we've accomplished in the city. Today, I'm here to accept responsibility, to move on to a new chapter in our life," said Maroño. "The city's bigger than one person. The city needs to move on."

Maroño and Forte will be sentenced on January 23, 2014. They face a maximum sentence of five years in prison, although Forte will likely receive fewer years because he's cooperating with authorities.

"Mr. Forte is regretful for the decision that he made and for his involvement in this particular manner," said his attorney, David Weinstein. "He's done everything in his power to correct that and he continues to do everything to facilitate the correction of this problem."

"It is vitally important that the people of South Florida have confidence in their elected officials and know that any abuse of their trust will not be tolerated," said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. "I hope that today's timely resolution and guilty plea will make others think twice before lining their pockets with the greed of corruption."

Last month, suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi pleaded not guilty in a similar case.