MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Michael Kesti isn’t buying the verdict in the corruption case against Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.
“I know Michael Pizzi is guilty,” Kesti told CBS4’s Eliott Rodriguez in an exclusive interview. “You can be found not guilty in a court of law, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are innocent.”
Kesti is the South Florida lobbyist who became a confidential informant in the case that led to charges against Pizzi, as well as Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and lobbyists Richard Candia and Jorge Forte. As part of the sting, Kesti approached local politicians claiming to represent Chicago businessmen offering kickbacks from a federal grant program. All but Pizzi pleaded guilty.
“I took on a role. I became an actor,” said Kesti.
Kesti compared what he did to the movie “American Hustle”, the story of how the FBI took down corrupt members of Congress in the 1970s using informants and a phony Arab Sheik.
“Somebody said I should write a book and call it Miami Hustle after American Hustle,” said Kesti.
Just like in the movie, Kesti played the part of a high roller with lots of connections, wining and dining local politicians at expensive restaurants at the government’s expense, sometimes walking a fine line between informing and entrapping.
“Michael Kesti destroyed innocent people’s lives so he could put money in his pocket,” said Pizzi.”Michael Kesti is a two-bit lying conman who should be in prison.”
During his trial, Pizzi’s lawyers pointed out that Kesti was paid by the FBI which Kesti doesn’t deny.
“I was paid $114,000 for this and other services over the past three years,” said Kesti.
He said he needed the money to play the role of a big-spending lobbyist eager to bribe corrupt politicians.
“I can’t take people to McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken and expect people to believe I represent a wealthy client who can pay them off on the side,” said Kesti.
Despite the verdict in the Pizzi case, Kesti said if given the chance he would cooperate again to fight corruption.
“I hope that it shows that maybe someone is watching they better be careful they better rethink what they’re doing,” said Kesti.