News Column

Lobbyists in Florida Bribery Scheme Make Bail

August 8, 2013

Two lobbyists charged in a kickback scheme with the mayors of the Miami suburbs of Miami Lakes and Sweetwater, Fla., were granted bond in a hearing Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors allege Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, 51, Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono, who is also the Medley town attorney, and lobbyists Jorge Forte, 41, and Richard Candia, 49, accepted thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for supporting purported federal grant applications for the communities of Miami Lakes, Sweetwater and Medley.

Candia and Forte will be arraigned Aug. 27. The mayors were arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to commit extortion in their roles as elected officials, and released on bond. Pizzi was also charged with a similar misconduct linked to a purported grant for the town of Medley.

William Barzee, Candia's attorney, Wednesday referred to his client as "a hard-working, humble guy who has done a lot for the community. I would ask everyone to keep an open mind."

Sweetwater Vice Mayor Jose Diaz said he was "totally surprised" by Marono's arrest.

"He's a straightforward man, a man of his word, "Diaz told WPLG-TV, Miami. I am very sad that I have to take over (the mayor's) position in this manner."

The Miami Herald noted Candia began cooperating with the FBI after he was approached by agents in June.

Undercover agents used Candia to approach Pizzi and Marono, offering an opportunity to get money by using a fictitious grant-writing business to tap into funding from AmeriCorps, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Marono and Forte allegedly received $40,000 for their parts in the scheme and an additional $20,000 for making introductions to other public officials on behalf of the businessmen, The Miami Herald reported.

In court Tuesday, Pizzi and Marono were ordered Tuesday by Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton not to contact other politicians, officials or lobbyists who are potential witnesses in the trial.

Source: Copyright UPI 2013