MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi entered a not guilty plea to federal corruption charges at his arraignment in federal court Friday morning.
Pizzi was flanked by three lawyers and more than a dozen supporters when he went before John O’Sullivan at which point the judge remarked, “A lot of people here for one person.”
Pizzi then entered a not guilty plea, asked for a trial by jury, and as he left the courthouse told the awaiting media, “I am innocent, I am not guilty, I will be exonerated and be found not guilty.”
Pizzi allegedly received $5,000 in cash kickbacks for a Miami Lakes grant deal and an additional $1,000 cash and $750 in campaign contributions for a deal in Medley, according to the FBI.
When asked whether he thought the feds had it out for him, Pizzi wasn’t willing to answer but he was quick to point out the group of Miami Lakes residents came to his arraignment on his behalf.
“A lot of these people took a day off of work to come here and show their support for me,” said Pizzi.
His supporters said they took public transportation across town to support him.
“He sent an email asking for supporters to be with him during the most difficult moments that he’s going through so we came to stand by him,” said Miami Lakes resident Hope Reynolds.
“We fell he has not been given a fair chance,” said Miami Lakes resident Alex Ariano.
Despite the serious allegations against him, Pizzi seemed light-hearted, and even poked fun at his pricey attorney when he asked him if he needed directions to the courthouse.
Pizzi has vowed to clear his name.
Pizzi, along with Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño were arrested August 6 following an undercover FBI operation and charged with conspiracy to commit extortion. Lobbyists Richard Candia and Jorge Forte were also arrested in the undercover sting.
Candia introduced Pizzi to undercover FBI agents to help implement the plan that paid the mayors thousands of dollars in bribes under a federal grant scheme, authorities said.