Mayor of Sweetwater Received More Than $40,000 in Bribes; Mayor of Miami Lakes Received $6,750 in Bribes
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, announce that four individuals have been charged in two separate complaints involving public corruption allegations. The first complaint charges Manuel L. Maroño, 41, the Mayor of Sweetwater, and two lobbyists, Jorge L. Forte, 41, and Richard F. Candia, 49, all of Miami, for their alleged participation in a kickback and bribery scheme (the Maroño complaint) in connection with purported federal grants for the City of Sweetwater. The second complaint charges Michael A. Pizzi, 51, the Mayor of Miami Lakes and Town Attorney for the Town of Medley, and Richard F. Candia, in a separate kickback and bribery scheme in connection with purported federal grants for both Miami Lakes and Medley (the Pizzi complaint). Both complaints charge the defendants with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1951(a).
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Our democracy suffers when, as in these cases, elected officials use their power and political influence for personal gain instead of for the public good. Public corruption, at any level of government, corrodes and undermines the public’s confidence in our system of government. We are committed to stopping this corrosion and to help restore transparency to local government.”
“For the public to have confidence in their government, they must be certain that their elected officials will not use their position for personal gain,” said Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “We encourage anyone who may have information about corruption to come forward and report it. This information is critical to our work. The South Florida community can be assured that public corruption will remain a top priority for the FBI.”
The defendants made their initial appearances in federal court today at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of up to twenty years in prison.
The investigation began in approximately June 2011, when Candia began dealing with an FBI confidential source and two undercover FBI agents posing as the owners of a Chicago-based grant administration business. During meetings, the undercover agents represented to Candia that, with the aid of corrupt local public officials, they could obtain federal grant moneys, which they would then keep and distribute among themselves. After listening to the undercover agents’ proposal, Candia identified Maroño and Pizzi as potential participants in the scheme.
The Sweetwater Deal—Manuel Maroño
According to the Maroño complaint affidavit, after identifying Maroño as a potential participant in the proposed scheme, Candia introduced Maroño to the undercover agents. Maroño caused the passage of a resolution in Sweetwater that authorized the undercover agents’ company to apply for federal grant moneys on behalf 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 action 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 a federal grant auditor to confirm the grantee’s 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 actions, Maroño and Forte received $40,000 and Candia received at least $5,000 in kickbacks in connection with the Sweetwater deal.
Lastly, Maroño, Forte and Candia received additional payments for their assistance in identifying other public officials whom they claimed might also be interested in participating in similar grant schemes in their cities. To this end, Maroño, Forte, and Candia used Maroño’s position as President of the Florida League of Cities to introduce the scheme to other officials. Maroño and Forte received an additional $20,000 in cash for these introductions, but no other public officials ultimately participated in the scheme.
The Miami Lakes/Medley Deals—Michael Pizzi
The second complaint charges Michael Pizzi and Candia with engaging in a similar grant scheme in Miami Lakes and Medley. As more fully explained in the affidavit filed in support of the Pizzi complaint, Candia introduced Pizzi to the undercover FBI agents to help implement the grant scheme in Medley, where Pizzi was the Town Attorney. After a series of meetings with Candia and the undercover agents, Pizzi initially agreed to participate in the scheme in exchange for $750 in campaign contributions, which he received in three separate checks delivered to his office by the FBI confidential source.
Thereafter, to aid in the grant scheme’s success, Pizzi backdated a document that endorsed the undercover agents’ company. Pizzi also handled what he believed to be an audit telephone call from a federal grant auditor to confirm the grantee’s performance on the grant. During that call, which was recorded, Pizzi 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. In return for Pizzi’s help in Medley, Pizzi received a $1,000 cash kickback and other things of value.
Later, with the intent of expanding the grant scheme to Miami Lakes, Pizzi worked to get a resolution passed in Miami Lakes that would authorize the undercover FBI agents’ company to seek additional grant funds for the City of Miami Lakes. In exchange for his work in Miami Lakes, Pizzi received additional $2,000 and $3,000 cash pay-offs.
These cases were investigated by the FBI Miami Area Public Corruption Task Force with assistance from the City of Miami Police Department, Hialeah Police Department, Miami Beach Police Department, Miami Dade Police Department and Customs and Border Protection – Internal Affairs. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared E. Dwyer.
A complaint is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Manuel Marono etal Complaint (PDF)
Michael Pizzi etal Complaint (PDF)
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.