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Former Sweetwater Mayor Sentenced To Three Plus Years In Prison

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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Former Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño was sentenced three years and four months in prison for his part in a kickback scheme.

Not saying a word Maroño, surrounded by supporters, walked into the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale Thursday morning.

“I made a mistake.  I had the people’s trust and I failed them,” Maroño told the judge. “Today I am here to accept responsibility, to move on to a new chapter in our lives.”

U.S. District Judge William Zloch quickly corrected him and said it was more than a mistake.

“You’re talking about public corruption which is a serious offense, a cancer in an orderly society,” said Zloch.

“The judge correctly likened political corruption to cancer. Today’s sentence sends a message to public officials: selling the public’s trust will put you in federal prison,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer.

Zloch said he hoped the 40 month prison sentence would send a message to other corrupt officials.

So many people showed up in support of Marono, the line to get into the courthouse snaked out the front door — and everyone could not fit into the courtroom.  The judge allowed one person to speak on their behalf.  Carlos Aguilar, the father of murdered University of Florida student Christian Aguilar, said Maroño was tireless in helping to search for his son who was reported missing and was later found dead.

“Don’t look at this mistake that he made, he already admitted to it, we ask for mercy,” said Aguilar.  “Don’t take away someone who means a lot to Sweetwater.  He did a lot of great things for the community and we cannot forget that.”

“The judge was balancing his view of needing to send a strong message on public corruption with the recognition of the many, many good things that Manny Maroño has done during his life,” said defense attorney Kendall Coffey.

During his hearing Thursday in Ft. Lauderdale, it was recommended that he serve his time in Miami.  Maroño must voluntarily surrender by noon on March 31st to begin his sentence.

Maroño said very little after the sentencing – just that he hopes Sweetwater gets past this quickly.

“Early on I said I want the city to move on, the city needs to move on.  The City of Sweetwater is bigger than one person.  The City of Sweetwater is not about Manny Maroño, it’s about the City of Sweetwater.”

Last November, Maroño pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.

Maroño, former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and lobbyists Jorge Forte and Richard Candia were arrested in August 2013 as part of a FBI sting in which he was accused of taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks through a bogus grant scheme.

Read the court documents: USA v Maroño

According to the initial criminal complaints, the two mayors and two lobbyists accepted thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for championing purported federal grant applications for their towns.

However, the men are accused of intending to line their pockets with the grant money — not to bring dollars into municipal coffers, according to FBI affidavits filed with the complaints.

Many of their conversations were recorded by undercover agents and on phone taps.

Those agents reportedly used Candia to approach Maroño and Pizzi, pitching an idea of making easy money by using the fictitious Chicago grant business to tap into an actual government agency.

In a CBS4 and El Nuevo Herald joint investigation, the questionable activities former Sweetwater Mayor Mauel Maroño was involved in during his time as mayor don’t stop with the conspiracy charge.

A letter obtained by CBS4 and El Nuevo Herald confirms Maroño helped his friend and former business partner secure a spot as one of the preferred towing companies in Doral.

Click here for the CBS4 and El Nuevo Herald joint investigation.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Miami Herald contributed to this report.)

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