Eight days after he was arrested on federal charges of conspiring to commit extortion, Medley Town Attorney Michael Pizzi was supposed to see his position with the town decided at a special town meeting last week.
But after a 30-minute delay at the start of the Aug. 14 meeting due to a technical glitch with the P.A. system, the council sat and listened to hired labor attorney John Griffin, who made the trip down from Tallahassee, tell them that documents regarding Pizzi’s contract are still being gathered. Therefore he could not make a recommendation on whether the town should terminate Pizzi’s contract.
“While we have been gathering information and documents at the town’s request, there remain some documents and information that we have not been able to yet verify related to the employment agreement with the town attorney,” Griffin said. “As a result, we do not feel we are in a position as I stand here tonight to make any kind of recommendation. We are hopeful that we will be able to gather the remaining information and documents in the next week to 10 days and at that time we will be in a position to provide a recommendation to the town council.”
But that didn’t mean the council wasn’t going to get something accomplished.
First they voted unanimously to hire Jacqueline A. Arango, an attorney for Akerman Senterfitt and a former federal prosecutor, as temporary special counsel to the town at a rate of $300 an hour.
The council also needed to decide whether hiring an interim town attorney was essential and while they already had five candidates who had made a bid for the position who were all present at the meeting, they postponed any potential hiring until another special meeting this Wednesday, Aug. 21. Arango was one of the five candidates applying for the interim town attorney position.
“We want to give this another week and give any potential candidates an opportunity to apply for the position,” Mayor Roberto Martell said. “This is an important process and we want to make sure everything is done thoroughly and correctly.”
Added Councilman Jack Morrow: “Whoever it is, we need to make sure they are experienced and are familiar with our procedures involving budget and the things that need to be done within the inner town workings.”
One of the five potential candidates present was a name quite familiar with Miami Springs residents — former councilman Dan Espino, who was on hand representing his firm, Becker & Poliakoff.
“It will ultimately up to Mayor Martell and the town of Medley council but certainly we want to be of service to the town at a most difficult time,” Espino said. “From my standpoint, having formerly served on the Miami Springs council, there is an understanding and a relationship with the town that would allow for a shorter learning curve than perhaps the other attorneys.”
Other candidates besides Arango and Espino who had applied for the position included former Doral mayor Juan Carlos (J.C.) Bermudez, also an attorney for Akerman Senterfitt; John Hearn, who has his own law practice and is the city attorney for Coral Springs in Broward County; and Christopher Zacarias, who has his own law practice and served as a special aide for Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
On Aug. 6, Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Moroño were charged with taking nearly $50,000 combined in bribes and kickbacks after applying for a fake grant writing scheme that actually turned out to be an undercover FBI sting operation.
Moroño, Sweetwater’s mayor since 2002, allegedly pocketed $40,000, while Pizzi, Miami Lakes’ mayor since 2008 and Medley’s full-time town attorney for the last 22 months, allegedly took $6,750.
According to the feds, Pizzi first pushed the bribery and kickback scheme through Medley before eventually moving it to Miami Lakes.
An arraignment for both Pizzi and Moroño is scheduled for next Tuesday, Aug. 27.
“We needed to obtain certain documents that related to his employment relationship,” Griffin told the Gazette after the meeting. “While we have received some of them, we have not gotten all of them. And then there are some questions on the ones we do have and we’re waiting on some answers for those as well.
“So it’s basically a matter of compiling some information as this is kind of short notice, so we believe that probably within the next seven to 10 days we’ll have what we need to make some type of recommendation.”
Griffin said another reason he made the trip down for the meeting was to advise Medley council members on their options as to how to handle the situation.
“We felt that the council needed to go ahead and at least move on making a decision on whether they were going to retain someone on an interim basis pending any type of advice we may give them later on down the road.” Griffin said.
Even though Pizzi is not making decisions, according to Martell, he is still the town attorney until otherwise determined.
“As the mayor of this city, we’re 100 percent going forward in the direction we need to take our city to make sure our city looks good,” Martell said following the meeting. “I’m proud to be the mayor of Medley and can assure our citizens that everything will be fine.
“We can’t judge anyone else until the legal procedure plays itself out, thus I don’t want to say anything about Mike Pizzi; he’s the town attorney for the moment. What we are trying to do is hire an interim town attorney for the moment because we need to continue our business in the city and make sure everything is organized and done in the proper manor.”