“This is disappointing,” Scott said in a statement the day Maroño and Forte were arrested. “While we wait to see the evidence, the fact remains that elected officials must be held to the highest standard.”
Until his arrest, Maroño was president of the Florida League of Cities. It was during last year’s annual League conference at the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood that Maroño introduced the undercover FBI agents posing as crooked Chicago businessmen to other politicians who might be amenable to their plot, according to the criminal complaint.
As part of the scheme, Maroño had gotten Sweetwater to pass a resolution on Dec. 6, 2011, signing off on the feasibility study for the purported federal grant.
Then, at a March 2, 2012, meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Maroño introduced the businessmen to Forte, his former chief of staff. Maroño called him his “right hand man” and asked them to go through Forte to get to him.
“There’s certain things I can’t do,” Maroño explained during the secretly recorded get-together.
Maroño and Forte negotiated their cut. Maroño excused himself before Forte worked out details of the first payment — $20,000 cash over three months.
Forte collected the installments. At an April 19, 2012, Miami Heat game against the Chicago Bulls, the agents asked Maroño if he was fine with the way the deal was going.
“Maroño nodded and said everything was satisfactory,” according to the complaint.
For setting up meetings with other public officials — even though none agreed to take part in the scheme — Maroño and Forte collected $20,000, prosecutors said. The first $5,000 payment came in an envelope stuffed with cash delivered to Forte in a car driven by Maroño.
After receiving a $10,000 payment, a wiretap recorded Forte and Maroño allegedly discussing the money on the telephone.
“Five, five ... each,” Forte said. The feds took that to mean that the men were splitting the money evenly.
When the scheme moved into its second phase — divvying up proceeds from a $1.2 million grant to Sweetwater — Maroño and Forte agreed to receive a 10 percent cut, or $120,000 over one year. Maroño took another call from a supposed auditor in which he lied about receiving a report on city underemployment from the Chicago businessmen, according to the complaint.
Forte collected $20,000 of that money, again to be split with the mayor, according to the complaint.
But after accepting the first $10,000 installment, Forte complained to an undercover agent that he needed to “chill out” about asking Maroño if he was happy with the deal.
Forte conveyed the same concern to lobbyist Candia: The Chicago businessmen were not being discreet enough.
Maroño, Candia told the feds, “doesn’t like doing that stuff on his phone, or no text, or anything like that.”
Miami Herald political writer Marc Caputo, researcher Monika K. Leal and writer Rodolfo Roman, and El Nuevo Herald reporter Brenda Medina, contributed to this report.
A previous version of this article misstated where Maroño went to high school and under what circumstances he was escorted from City Hall when he was arrested. He attended Coral Park Senior High School — though not with Forte — and he was not escorted in handcuffs.