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Suspended Sweetwater Mayor Pleads Guilty

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Suspended Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño after he plead guilty in court one count of conspiracy fraud on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. (Source: CBS4)

Suspended Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño after he plead guilty in court one count of conspiracy fraud on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. (Source: CBS4)

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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Suspended Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño was back in court Wednesday where he pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy fraud.

The plea comes on the heels of a CBS4 News and El Nuevo Herald joint investigation into the questionable connection between the former mayor and a tow truck company he owned.

Leaving court, Maroño told a crowd of journalists that he is ready to move on after changing his plea in court to guilty to one count of conspiring to commit honor services fraud.

Maroño, and lobbyist Jorge Forte, were both arrested in August as part of an FBI sting in which they reportedly received thousands of dollars in kickbacks under the guise of seeking federal grants, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Forte also changed his plea to guilty in court Wednesday.

The honest-services fraud charge accuses them of illegally splitting $60,000 in cash and checks for official favors and concealing those payments from the public.

Maroño admitted in court that he conspired to receive $25,000 by passing resolutions and signing endorsement letters in his role as Mayor of Sweetwater.

He said he did this all for personal gain. Surrounded by his wife and mother, the suspended mayor said he wants to put this ordeal behind him.

“I’m here to accept responsibility, to move on to a new chapter in our life. I want to thank, first, all the supporters, my family, all the residents of Sweetwater that have supported me and prayed for me, also pray for the new administration and help the city to move forward. The city is bigger than one person. The city needs to move on,” said Maroño.

Maroño did not take any questions after making the brief statement on the steps of the courthouse Fort Lauderdale. CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana wanted to ask him about his connection to Southland Towing Company that once did business with the City of Sweetwater. They’ve been investigating this connection, and CBS4 News has learned the FBI is also looking into the ties between the two.

Both Forte and Maroño face up to five years in prison. Their sentencing is set for January 23rd.

Two others facing similar kickback charges resulting from the same sting operation are former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and lobbyist Richard Candia. Pizzi pleaded not guilty last month. Candia, who flipped for federal investigators by assisting their undercover probe, is expected to pursue the same legal strategy as the former Sweetwater mayor and Forte.

An investigation by CBS4 and El Nuevo Herald found, in addition to the bribery allegations, there was the alleged towing scheme and a missing police horse.

Click here to read CBS4’s original investigation “Questionable Connection Between Towing Co. & Suspended Mayor”

A recent El Nuevo Herald investigation also found that a current city commissioner was voting on measures presented by the man who approved his paycheck in his private job, ousted mayor Maroño.

According to CBS4 partners at El Nuevo Herald, Commissioner Jose Guerra was a supervisor at a towing company called Southeast Towing Inc, from 2008 to 2010 while he held public office.

The El Nuevo Herald investigation reveals Guerra’s boss at the time was the company’s owner Maroño.

The county’s ethics code forbids public officials to work in places that could create a conflict of interest.

Commissioner Guerra told our news partners at El Nuevo Herald that there was no conflict of interest because he said he did not know the mayor owned the company he worked for, for two years.

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