MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A South Florida lobbyist caught up in a FBI kickback sting which also snared two mayors changed his plea in court on Wednesday.
Richard Candida pleaded guilty to two counts of honest services fraud. Prosecutors agreed Candia played a “minor role” in the offense. Sentencing was set for August 6th.
Candida, along with former Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño, former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and lobbyists Jorge Forte were arrested in August 2013 as part of a FBI sting in which they was accused of taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks through a bogus grant scheme.
According to the their 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 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 November, 2013, Maroño pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. He’s currently serving a prison sentence of three years and four months.
Pizzi was in his second term as mayor of Miami Lakes at the time of his arrest and has worked as a Miami Lakes councilman and at a criminal defense firm in Miami before being elected mayor for the first time in 2008. He has maintained his innocence and plans to fight the charges against him.