MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has vowed to clear his name.
In a statement, Sunday, to CBS4 News, Pizzi said “I have never committed any crime or done anything wrong.”
Pizzi, 51, along with Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and lobbyists Jorge Forte and Richard Candia, reportedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for championing purported federal grant applications for their towns. The grant scheme was an undercover FBI operation and federal investigators said they planned to line their pockets with the grant money.
Pizzi went on to say in his statement that “Now that I have been arrested for a crime I did not commit, I look forward to clearing my name in court as soon as possible so I can return to serving the people as mayor. The evidence will prove my innocence.”
Pizzi added in the statement that he only wanted to obtain grants for Miami Lakes and Medley and “accepted no money inappropriately or illegally from anyone, ever.”
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.
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.
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 the Miami Herald, the challenge for federal prosecutors will have to prove that Pizzi and the others took part in the grant scheme knowing full well that its only purpose was to enrich them. Prosecutors also have to prove that the four defendants’ intentions were criminal when they allegedly pocketed the cash payments.
Pizzi has said he did nothing wrong because he believed that the grant program with the government agency, AmeriCorps, was legitimate.
Last week, the Town of Miami Lakes council tapped Vice-Mayor Ceasar Mestre to replace Pizzi as mayor.
This Tuesday, the Miami Lakes Town Council will hold a special meeting on 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss a special October 1st mayoral election. Technically they have 90 days to have a special election for residents to vote but Miami-Dade’s Supervisor of Elections told the city they couldn’t do anything prior to November 5th because they were busy getting ready for the upcoming general election and four municipal elections.
In Sweetwater, city commission president Jose M. Diaz remains will serve in the capacity of acting-mayor during Maroño’s suspension. Acting-mayor Diaz will only be sworn in as mayor if Maroño is convicted or resigns from his position.
The special election is the result of federal authorities arresting Mayor Michael Pizzi Tuesday on charges of conspiring to commit extortion in their roles as mayor, from 2011 to 2013.