Sweetwater mayor Manuel Maroño was a rising star



For a small-town mayor with a relatively short political life, Manuel Maroño has a kept a high profile.

Born and raised in Sweetwater, he became the youngest person elected to the city commission in 1995. By 2003, he’d been elected mayor — a position he’s held for 10 years as the city’s first native son to hold its highest office.

But on Tuesday, Maroño’s political star fell when FBI agents arrested him on bribery charges that allege that he received $40,000 in kickbacks in a sting operation.

The arrest marks a sharp turn in the life of a young politician with a burgeoning reputation.

Last August, Maroño, 41 , who is executive operations manager at Westbrook Motors, was named president of the Florida League of Cities. He threw his support behind Gov. Rick Scott during his gubernatorial campaign, and Scott later asked him to be part of his transition team.

Scott visited Sweetwater to swear Maroño in when he was reelected after running for mayor unopposed in 2011.

Ask people on the streets, and many will tell you they’ve seen their city improve during Maroño’s tenure.

But after Tuesday morning’s arrest, commissioners and citizens alike were shocked.

“I don’t believe it,” said Carla Gonzalez, 48, a 26-year resident of Sweetwater. “He’s helped a lot of people here.’’

His father, confused and distraught after his son’s arrest, told the Herald he’d raised his son well. His mother, a commissioner in Sweetwater, didn’t believe the accusations.

“It’s not true,” she said. “It’s not true, what they’re saying.”

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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