News and Press Releases

Former City of Sweetwater Mayor Sentenced in Corruption Investigation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 23, 2014

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Miami Field Office, announce that Manuel L. Maroño, the former Mayor of the City of Sweetwater, was sentenced to 40 months in prison and two years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch for conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud involving a scheme to personally benefit himself through the use of his elected position as Mayor of Sweetwater.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “The judge correctly likened political corruption to cancer. Today’s sentence sends a message to public officials: selling the public’s trust will put you in federal prison.”

"The sentence received by Manuel L. Marono today was not only for violating the law, but also for undermining the public’s trust in their elected official,” said Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Division. "Marono was brought to justice in large part due to the dedication and commitment of the members of the Miami Area Corruption Task Force.”

According to documents filed with the court, in late November 2011, Maroño and his co-conspirator, Jorge Forte, a lifelong friend of Maroño and a lobbyist, agreed to aid a company known as Sunshine Universal to obtain federal grant funds for the stated reason of preparing an economic development study for Sweetwater, all in exchange for cash kickbacks to Maroño and Forte. Although Maroño and Forte were unaware, Sunshine Universal was, in fact, an undercover FBI entity. To aid the scheme, Maroño caused the passage of a resolution in Sweetwater that authorized the undercover agents’ company to apply for federal grant moneys using the authority of the City of Sweetwater. After the resolution was passed, Maroño and Forte personally met and negotiated with the undercover agents and accepted a series of cash payments in exchange for Maroño’s official actions in support of the grant scheme. During these negotiations and meetings, Forte acted as the front man for Maroño.

To further the scheme and avoid detection, Maroño also participated in what he believed to be audit telephone calls from the federal government to confirm the grantees’ performance on the grant. During two separate audit calls, both of which were recorded, Maroño lied to and misled the auditor, who was in fact an undercover FBI agent, about the actual use of the grant money and the grantee’s performance. For their corrupt actions, Maroño and Forte received $45,000.

Mr. Ferrer commends the investigative efforts of the FBI. This case was prosecuted Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jared E. Dwyer and Robert K. Senior.

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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