On at least five occasions, former Sweetwater mayor Manuel Maroño bought cars and other motor vehicles that had been removed by his towing companies.
They were not luxury vehicles. In September 2011, for example, Maroño sold a 2002 Honda to himself through his company, Southeast Towing Inc., for $500.
Days after that sale, Maroño stopped appearing in state registers as a partner in the company.
As part of a broad investigation by the Sweetwater Police Department, federal authorities have been inquiring about the connections between some city officials with Maroño’s businesses.
This week, El Nuevo Herald and CBS-4, which have been reporting on these connections since Maroño’s arrest in August in an unrelated public corruption case, obtained the titles and other documents of several vehicles he has owned.
The records are incomplete, but indicate that Maroño has had possession of dozens of cars, boats and all-terrain vehicles.
One is a 1992 Ford pickup he bought for $350 from another towing company, Southland The Towing Company, in 2010. The pickup had been towed in Miccosukee territory in West Miami-Dade.
State records show that Maroño was owner of Southland until 2009, though he continued to represent its businesses in at least one city — Doral.
Maroño’s lawyer did not respond a message for comment on.
It is not clear whether these vehicles were towed in Sweetwater, where Southland had a verbal agreement for years to tow vehicles during arrests. Several people have criticized Southland and Sweetwater for making the recovery of their vehicles so difficult that they sometimes end up losing them.
Several owners are talking to an attorney, who recently sued the city on behalf of one client. Lawyer Richard Díaz sued the city in October for confiscating a Volkswagen owned by Abraham Herbas.
Díaz said so many victims have contacted him that he’ll seek to change the federal complaint to a class action lawsuit. He is now seriously considering adding Southland to the suit because its connection to the city seems to be a “conspiracy relationship.”
Also, in some cases, the vehicles that Southland towed in Sweetwater ended up being “donated” to the city’s Police Department.
“There seemed to be a serious conflict of interests here,” Díaz said.
In the weeks after Maroño’s arrest, other questionable links have surfaced. For example, city attorney Ralph Ventura also is Southland’s attorney.
And the city hired a former employee of Maroño’s towing companies - and more recently of Southland - as manager of the city’s fleet. This person’s wife is the city’s finance director.
Maroño also obtained vehicles from another towing company, Westbrook Motors, which he owned from 2002 to 2005.
In February 2008, he bought a 1994 Toyota pickup from Westbrook for $50. In September 2011, Maroño paid $250 for a 1999 Yamaha boat that had been owned by Westbrook.
When Maroño was part of Westbrook, his partners were Robert Muriedas and Peter Hernández, according to state registers. Raúl Suárez and Gretel González now own the company.
Muriedas is current owner of Southland, and Hernández owns Southeast.