He campaigned on Election Day the following year by riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to the polls.
In insular Sweetwater, family ties run deep. Diaz’s brother-in-law, Jose Bergouignan, sits on the commission. So does Maroño’s mother, Isolina, who was elected earlier this year after being appointed last year following a commissioner’s death.
As a strong mayor who also serves as the city’s manager, Maroño did not have a vote on his mother’s appointment, and there is no prohibition under Florida’s Sunshine Laws against a strong mayor meeting one-on-one with a commissioner.
Maroño’s mother, who has repeatedly maintained her son’s innocence, is not his only relative at City Hall.
In 1996, Sweetwater hired Maroño’s uncle, Antero Espinosa. He makes $74,662 a year as the city’s maintenance director and drives a city-paid pick-up truck. Jennifer Muñoz-Maroño, Maroño’s wife, has worked for Sweetwater since 2001. She makes $75,000 a year as the city’s director of special projects. The city pays for her Chevrolet Tahoe SUV.
As mayor, Maroño made an annual salary of $95,000.
City officials have closed ranks since Maroño’s arrest. Commissioners won’t talk about the suspended mayor. Neither will the new mayor, Jose M. Diaz, no relation to the county commissioner.
During his tenure, the savvy Maroño accomplished something Sweetwater, seeking a boost to its property-tax base, had been pushing for years: to expand the city’s borders to include the Dolphin Mall. The city grew by roughly two square miles and nearly 6,500 people.
In 2010, Maroño got lucky betting on a dark political horse. He was one of the few Miami-Dade Republicans who broke with the establishment to support the long-shot gubernatorial candidacy of a Naples billionaire named Rick Scott. Maroño became Scott’s local guide, accompanying him to Little Havana’s Versailles restaurant and translating for Scott on Spanish-language radio.
When Scott narrowly won the election, Maroño’s profile skyrocketed.
He billed himself as a conduit to the governor. Republicans upset with Scott last year when he called a law prohibiting governments from hiring companies tied to Cuba unconstitutional vented to Maroño, who tried to smooth things over.
Two months ago, Maroño introduced Scott at the Miami-Dade GOP’s annual Lincoln Day fundraiser.
“Now it’s time for the bald guys,” he joked, referring to their shared look.
“Two handsome bald guys,” Scott added.
Maroño also started spending time at the state Capitol.
David Caserta, who briefly lobbied for Sweetwater during the 2011 legislative session, said he remembers Maroño dropping by Tallahassee.
“He seemed like a really nice guy,” Caserta said. “I would see him every once in a while up there, so I’m assuming he probably got involved. People knew him.”
But what Maroño did in Tallahassee isn’t clear. There was not much to push for on behalf of his city. And he did not register to lobby for anyone.
His buddy Forte, however, did. Records show Forte registered to lobby the executive branch beginning in 2011, Scott’s first year in office. Forte and Maroño had a consulting business named 7 Strategies, a hat tip to Scott’s campaign promise to use a seven-step plan to create 700,000 jobs.