A confidential tip provided over two ago to the FBI led to the arrest of two mayors and two lobbyists. The FBI tried to set up other local politicians in the same sting operation, but were unsuccessful. Miami lawyers from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Florida are accusing the four defendants of bribery for accepting money in exchange for using their political positions to obtain federal grant money purportedly to be used for their respective municipalities. The feds believe the money was never intended to be used for its intended purpose, but rather to line their pockets. The indictment alleges that Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono accepted a bribe in the amount of $10,000 while Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi accepted $3,000.
Last week, the FBIO arrested Marono and Pizzi at their offices for conspiracy to commit extortion. Pizzi was also arrested for the same charge relating to illegal activities that he was involved in as the town attorney for Medley. Both defendants are currently being represented by Miami-Dade criminal defense attorneys. The lawyers involved in the case have vowed to fight the charges and vindicate their clients. The two lobbyist also caught up in the sting operation surrendered to federal authorities the day after the mayors were arrested. In a press conference, U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer stated that, "Our democracy suffers when...elected officials use their power and influence for personal gains instead of for public good."
Morono and Pizzi appeared before a federal magistrate last week at their first appearance. A first appearance in federal court is tantamount to a bond hearing in state court. Pizzi's bond was set a $100,000, while Marono bond was set at $250,000. The magistrate ordered both defendants to not have contact with other politicians and lobbyists that are potential witnesses in the case. According to the indictment, Marono and one of the lobbyists met with undercover agents acting as Chicago businessmen. At that meeting, the defendants are accused of accepting $10,000 in cash. In return, the defendants were supposed to apply for federal grants that were never going to be used for their intended purpose. The indictment also alleges that Pizzi accepted $5,000 for sponsoring and application for a federal grant on behalf of Miami Lakes. It also alleges that he received $1,750 for sponsoring the grant on behalf of Medley.
Before entering politics Pizzi was employed as a defense attorney for a high profile Miami criminal defense law firm. After leaving the firm he became a councilman for Miami Lakes. He won the seat of mayor for the same township in 2008 and was re-elected last year. People that know Pizza expressed disbelief that he would be involved in public corruption. Morono has a long history of politics in Miami-Dade County. Morono was elected to the city commission of Sweetwater in 1995 and was elected mayor of the same municipality in 2003.
Miami Lakes and Sweetwater Mayors "Stung" by FBI for Taking Alleged Kickbacks, Miami Herald.com, August 6, 2013.