2 lobbyists tied to mayors accused of corruption surrender
MIAMI (WSVN) -- Two lobbyists accused of working with Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono, who both face corruption charges, turned themselves in to the FBI following the extortion allegations.
Pizzi and Marono were taken into custody Tuesday morning on alleged public corruption charges. According to officials, lobbyists Jorge Forte and Richard Candia turned themselves in to the feds the following morning.
William Barzee, Richard Candia's attorney, said, "We would just ask everyone in the community to please keep an open mind. Richard's going to do everything in his power to continue working with the investigation."
Officials said, Forte and Candia worked with both mayors on a kickback and bribery scheme where they set up fake companies in order to pocket federal grant money. Forte, who is the former City Manager of North Bay Village, is also accused of working with Marono in another scheme in Sweetwater.
Pizzi and Marono appeared in Miami federal court Tuesday afternoon. In a news conference following the hearing, officials said both mayors are accused of pocketing federal grant money and lying about where it was going. U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer said, "This betrayal of our public trust is intolerable. Our democracy suffers in these cases when elected officials use their power and political influence for personal gain instead of the public good."
Forte was the chief of staff for Marono. Federal investigators said Forte was in on the mayor's scheme in Sweetwater and Candia met with Pizzi to propagate the same scheme in that city.
FBI Spec. Agent Michael Steinbach said yesterday, "During the investigation, an undercover company, as mentioned, was established that paid bribes to elected officials for approving several grants."
The feds said Marono and Forte received $40,000 in kickbacks and Candia $5,000. Pizzi, they said, pocketed more than $6,000. On Tuesday, as the mayors left court, both offered little comment. "I've done nothing wrong," said Marono. "Let's move forward."
Pizzi just said, "I have no comment today. There'll be a time."
According to their attorneys, they did nothing wrong.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has suspended both mayors. Scott said, "It's a disappointment. Look, all elected officials should have to live up to the highest standards. It's always a disappointment when anybody does something that's not living up to that standard."
There is an arraignment scheduled for Aug 27 at 10 a.m. for everyone involved in this case.
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