They said, Take a look at this and get back. I never did. We never spoke about it again, said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. It was described as an economic development thing.
The criminal complaint contends Forte and Maroño arranged to collect 12 percent of any money disbursed for the first 10 cities they roped in, and 25 percent for each city after that. Not a single city took the bait though the men received $20,000 from the undercover agents for those referrals as part of their total take.
One public official who asked not to be identified said that when Forte approached a city for a contract, He wasnt shy about his relationship with Maroño.
Maroño is the protégé of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz, a popular, former Sweetwater mayor. Appointed to Diazs mayoral slot in 2002 when Diaz moved on to County Hall, Maroño has twice been reelected mayor. He has gained considerable local power over the past three years by touting his access to the Republican governor.
Fortes public-service career began in 2002, when after a few white-collar jobs he followed Maroño to Sweetwater to become the citys grants coordinator, and then the mayors chief of staff. He eventually teamed up with the mayor to form a statewide consulting business called 7 Strategies, a play on Gov. Scotts campaign pledge to use a seven-step plan to create 700,000 jobs.
Commissioner Diaz did not respond to several requests for interviews. Forte could not be reached for comment. His attorney, David Weinstein, declined to answer questions about the charges.
Forte attended South Miami Senior High School, received a GED, then worked at an outsourcing company and with CompUSA, his application for North Bay Village manager shows. Forte later attended Florida International University and received a bachelors degree from the University of Phoenix.
In Sweetwater, Forte made up to $80,000 a year. His friend, the mayor, credited him with helping obtain federal money to relieve the citys chronic flooding woes.
In 2006, after receiving a masters degree in business administration from Nova Southeastern University, Forte was named North Bay Village manager, overseeing all city employees and departments in a job that that paid $150,000 a year.
One of Fortes references on the application was Jennifer Muñoz-Maroño, the mayors wife, who directs special projects for Sweetwater. Forte won council approval over a dozen other candidates several highly qualified despite a less-than-stellar résumé.
Joe Geller, the North Bay Village mayor at the time, was the only member of the five-person council to vote against hiring Forte, a man he called bright, pleasant and generally well-liked.
Geller said everyone knew Forte and Maroño were close. Still, he couldnt recall why council members were so enthralled with Forte, calling the job a step up from what hed done before.
Forte, who is married with three children, left the village after two years. His personnel file does not explain why. Geller said his recollection is that Forte simply said he was moving on.
County Commissioner Sally Heyman, who keeps an eye on the municipalities within her district, said there was so much upheaval in North Bay Village during Fortes tenure that managers came and went.