MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Bond has been set at $100,000 for two lobbyists who were ensnared in a federal sting which ended with the arrests of the mayors of Miami Lakes and Sweetwater.
Jorge Forte, 41, the former chief of staff for Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño, and Richard Candia, 49, will face the same federal charges as Maroño and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.
All four men are accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for championing purported federal grant applications for their towns. In reality, however, federal investigators said they planned to line their pockets with the grant money, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
On Wednesday, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel issued the following statement concerning Forte’s arrest.
“I first knew Jorge Forte from my time as Police Chief in North Bay Village, as Mr. Forte was then the City Manager. He always seemed to be a very competent administrator. After my election as Sheriff, Mr. Forte volunteered from time to time to give advice with the transition. When I took office, we hired Mr. Forte for a brief (4 week) consulting project to determine cost saving possibilities related to our vehicle fleet. I am as surprised as anyone by the news of Mr. Forte’s arrest yesterday, as the person I read about in the news reports was clearly not the person I thought him to be.”
Maroño, 41, and Pizzi, 51, were arrested at their respective town hall offices on Tuesday. Pizzi also was charged with the same misconduct linked to a purported federal grant for Medley, where he is the town attorney.
The federal investigation into possible public corruption began two years ago.
FBI undercover agents posed as businessmen from a Chicago grant business who claimed they get grant money from AmeriCorps, part of the Department of Commerce.
The feds used used Candia to approach Maroño and Pizzi.
In a one recording made by the undercover agents in September 2011, Candia said Maroño would be amenable to the grant scheme, according to the paper. “[Marono]’s not gonna be shy, shy to ask for sh-t. I mean, there will be no end,’’ according to an FBI affidavit filed by prosecutor Jared Dwyer.
Maroño is accused of working with both lobbyists to break the law, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald. Maroño and Forte allegedly received $40,000 for their parts in the federal grant scheme.
Federal prosecutors said they also received an additional $20,000 for introducing the undercover agents and the scheme to other public officials who didn’t bite.
Pizzi allegedly received $5,000 in cash kickbacks for the Miami Lakes grant deal and an additional $1,000 cash and $750 in campaign contributions for the Medley deal.
Candia allegedly received at least $5,000 in kickbacks for the Sweetwater deal. He did not get any money relating to the Medley or Miami Lakes grant deals.
According to federal prosecutors, both mayors sponsored resolutions to apply for the federal grants and wrote endorsement letters to the government for the money.
They also are accused of lying to FBI undercover agents who posed as auditors for AmeriCorps, saying the money had come in and was being properly spent, when neither was true, according to the Herald.
Pizzi and Maroño made their first appearances in Miami federal court Tuesday. Pizzi’s bond was set at $100,000, Maroño’s at $250,000. Both were ordered by Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton not to contact dozens of other politicians and officials who may be witnesses during the case.
CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.