The undercover agents used Candia to approach Maroño and Pizzi, pitching them on the idea of making easy money by using the fictitious Chicago grant business to tap into an actual government agency, AmeriCorps, part of the Department of Commerce.
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.
In one September 2011 recording, Candia, talking to an undercover agent posing as one of the Chicago businessmen, said Maroño would be amenable to the grant scheme. [Marono]s not gonna be shy, shy to ask for sh-t. I mean, there will be no end, according to an FBI affidavit filed by prosecutor Jared Dwyer.
Pizzi is accused of breaking the law with Candia, who resigned from Becker & Poliakoff after the charges were filed Tuesday. Candia was a legislative aide for state Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart in the mid-1990s. 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.
Both mayors sponsored resolutions to apply for the federal grants and wrote endorsement letters to the government for the money, authorities said. They also are accused of lying to FBI undercover agents who posed as auditors for AmeriCorps, saying the money had come in and was being properly spent, when neither was true.
Pizzi, who is serving his second term as mayor, has been in the public eye for years. He is an attorney and former federal probation officer who once worked for a high-profile criminal defense law firm in Miami and served as a Miami Lakes councilman before running successfully for town mayor in 2008. He was reelected last year.
Miami Lakes Vice Mayor Ceasar Mestre was in Pizzis office at City Hall around 10 a.m. Tuesday.
I sat down in front of him and the door to his office opened abruptly, Mestre said. There was no knock. It just opened and a bunch of federal agents walked in and announced who they were.
Pizzi then turned to the agents and greeted them: Nice to see you gentlemen, how can I help you?
Mestre was asked to leave the room. He waited outside of Pizzis office for about five minutes, when the door opened. Pizzi was in handcuffs. On his way out the door, Pizzi asked Mestre to call certain people to let them know what was going on, including a local attorney and someone he described as a significant woman in his life.
Later in the day, federal agents interviewed Mestre.
Having had the conversation I just had with federal agents .... I am very surprised, Mestre said. I told them that Michael doesnt seem like the type of person who is driven by greed and money. He lives a plain lifestyle. He lives in a small townhouse and drove an old car until he got a Kia.
In 2012, Pizzi easily defeated challenger Wayne Slaton, who had served as Miami Lakes first mayor after its incorporation in 2000. The Pizzi-Slaton mayoral showdown was particularly nasty for Miami Lakes, a normally below-the-radar community that was originally home to the Graham familys dairy farm.
Slaton said Tuesday the town has changed.
Miami Lakes was considered a jewel that was sort of set apart untouched, community-oriented. No rough stuff, he said.