MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In a unanimous vote, the Town of Miami Lakes council tapped Vice -Mayor Ceasar Mestre to replace Michael Pizzi as mayor.
Pizzi, along with Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño, were suspended by Gov. Rick Scott after they were caught in a federal public corruption sting.
Mestre was in the room with Pizzi when the FBI burst into the office Tuesday.
“The door opened into his office abruptly. In walked in eight gentlemen that identified themselves as FBI. They said ‘Mr. Pizzi, FBI’. He looked up at them and then said ‘Hi gentlemen. How can I help you?’ something like that.”
Pizzi was soon in handcuffs. Mestre, who had worked with the Mayor for years was shocked.
“I never considered money a driving force for Michael Pizzi. I’m very surprised about that. He lived a very simple life. Never into fancy cars, fancy house. Never took vacations at all.” Mestre said.
Mestre would keep the mayors title until a special election could be held.
“We may or may not be able to.” said Town attorney Steven Geller.
Technically they have 90 days to have a special election for residents to vote but Miami-Dade’s Supervisor of Elections told the city they couldn’t do anything prior to November 5. Essentially they had to much on their plate with the general election and four municipal elections already slated.
That’s too late though for Miami Lakes. The town’s attorney said they have to change Miami-Dade’s mind or “Or we have to go in front of a judge,” Geller said.
Also on Wednesday, the Miami Lakes council fired their lobbyists and cancelled all contracts pushed by Pizzi.
In Sweetwater, city commission president Jose M. Diaz remains will serve in the capacity of acting-mayor during Maroño’s suspension. Acting-mayor Diaz will only be sworn in as mayor if Maroño is convicted or resigns from his position.
“I would like to reiterate that Manny Maroño is innocent until proven guilty. I am confident in our judicial system and that justice will prevail,” said Diaz. “I will continue to lead the city in a professional fashion with the highest level of integrity.”
Pizzi was scheduled to take on Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez in a fundraising event dubbed “MMA Mayhem at Milander Mayor vs. Mayor” on September 6th but that has now been canceled.
“You know there are a few politicians I wouldn’t mind going in the ring with. I don’t know if they would get in the ring with me. Some are ex-mayors here in the City of Hialeah.” Hernandez quipped.
Both Pizzi and Maroño, along with lobbyists Jorge Forte and Richard Candia, reportedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for championing purported federal grant applications for their towns. In reality, however, federal investigators said they planned to line their pockets with the grant money.
Maroño and Forte allegedly received $40,000 for their parts in the federal grant scheme. Federal prosecutors said they also received an additional $20,000 for introducing the undercover agents and the scheme to other public officials who didn’t bite.
Pizzi allegedly received $5,000 in cash kickbacks for the Miami Lakes grant deal and an additional $1,000 cash and $750 in campaign contributions for the Medley deal.
Candia allegedly received at least $5,000 in kickbacks for the Sweetwater deal. He did not get any money relating to the Medley or Miami Lakes grant deals.
Pizzi and Maroño made their first appearances in Miami federal court Tuesday. Pizzi’s bond was set at $100,000, Maroño’s at $250,000. Both men posted bail. They were ordered by Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton not to contact dozens of other politicians and officials who may be witnesses during the case.