Miami Lakes

Feds slap ex-Miami Lakes Mayor Pizzi with more charges

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Federal prosecutors have charged Michael Pizzi, the suspended Miami Lakes mayor, with two new offenses stemming from his role in an alleged government grant scheme.

Pizzi, 51, will be arraigned Thursday on the charges of accepting bribes while Miami Lakes received more than $10,000 in federal funds for local programs over the past year.

But the new charges are based on the same alleged extortion activity from Pizzi’s earlier indictment. The only difference is that prosecutors have used the same evidence to charge him under a different bribery law. He has not been accused of taking any new bribes.

Pizzi has waived his right to appear at the arraignment in Miami federal court, where his defense lawyers, Ed Shohat and Ben Kuehne, pleaded not guilty to the two new charges.

In October, Pizzi pleaded not guilty to an initial five-count indictment charging him with seeking kickbacks in exchange for sponsoring sham federal grant applications that prosecutors say were meant to enrich him. His trial is set for early May.

According to the initial indictment, Pizzi collected three payments totaling $6,000 in cash and received $750 in checks for his 2012 reelection campaign in exchange for championing resolutions that paved the way for federal grant applications in Miami Lakes and Medley. Pizzi also worked as Medley's town attorney.

If he is convicted, each of those five counts carries up to 20 years in prison. Each of the two new counts carries up to 10 years in prison.

In August, Pizzi was arrested and charged along with Miami-Dade lobbyist Richard Candia. Candia also was accused of the same offense with Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and lobbyist Jorge Forte, who pleaded guilty in November.

All were accused of participating in a “bogus” grant scheme designed to line their pockets with thousands of dollars while their towns would get nothing. The sting operation was orchestrated by the FBI's anti-corruption agents, who posed as Chicago businessmen claiming they would obtain the grant money for an economic development study and share the proceeds with the two mayors and two lobbyists.

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