Lobbyists charged in mayors' cases surrender to FBI

FBI agents arrest Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño, lobbyists Richard Candia, Jorge Forte


The two lobbyists charged in connection with the public corruption cases against the mayors of Sweetwater and Miami Lakes surrendered to federal authorities in North Miami Beach.

Richard Candia and Jorge Forte (pictured right) turned themselves in on Wednesday morning. A federal judge ordered they be held on $100,000 bond.

FBI agents arrested Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi at their city hall offices Tuesday morning. 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.

Candia, 49, and Forte, 41, face the same charge -- conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official rights -- as the mayors.

"We would just ask everyone in the community to please keep an open mind. Richard's going to do everything in his power to continue working with the investigation," said William Barzee, Candia's attorney.

"We're away of what the charges are that have been filed against him, and we're comfortable to let the facts speak for themselves inside the courtroom," said David Weinstein, Forte's attorney.

Read: Sweetwater vice mayor 'surprised' by arrest | Miami Lakes residents disappointed in mayor's arrest |

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.

Read: Manuel Maroño complaint | Michael Pizzi complaint |

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.

Candia recorded a conversation with Pizzi at his law office in Medley for investigators, according to the FBI.

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. They are scheduled to return to court in late August for an arraignment.

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 but the fight was cancelled.

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