Gov. Rick Scott of Florida suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono today, but not until after they had been arrested in their offices at City Hall for public corruption charges in the wake of a two-year investigation by the FBI.
An NBC Miami report says 2 FBI undercover agents contacted a lobbyist, Richard Candia, posed as the owner of a Chicago-based grant administration business. The lobbyist introduced the agents to both mayors, with both supporting ordinances that would get the fake company federal grants. The FBI said Marono received more than $40,000 in bribes since 2002 while Pizzi received $6,750 in bribes.
The dirt just seemed to get deeper when Marono was caught abusing his position as president of the Florida League of Cities to coerce other public servants to sign on to the grant fraud. For conducting the introductions, Marono was paid $20,000, but no officials bit the hook.
Pizzi, meanwhile, initially agreed to join the grant scheme for quick and dirty campaign funds, but later was caught backdating documents to endorse the fake Chicago bond admins. When an FBI agent posing as a grant auditor started asking questions about the grants for the town of Medley, Pizzi lied and misled the agent about how the money was used. Pizzi was paid $1000 kickback for the Medley gig.
Pizzi’s lawyer said that “Today begins his fight for vindication,” while Marono’s attorney simply said that “anything that we will be saying on behalf of Mayor Marono will be said in court.”
Marono was the first to face the charges of extortion and bribery in court, and posted a $250,000 bond. Pizzi was also in court, released on $50,000 bond. “There’ll be a time,” Pizzi said to the reporters on his way out.
As to who will fill the former mayors’ shoes, the Miami Herald reports that Vice Mayor Caesar Mestre will serve as interim mayor of Pizzi’s Miami Lakes while Vice Mayor and City Commission President Jose Diaz will become acting mayor in Marono’s city of Sweetwater.
As for Candia and the other lobbyist charged in the scandal, Jorge Forte, the two are expected to turn themselves on Wednesday when they appear in federal court.
Article image courtesy NBC-Miami.