The corruption trial of suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi starts just after the July 4th weekend, but the fireworks are already shooting off.
First, federal prosecutors tried to revoke Pizzi’s bail and put him in jail after accusing him of lying to a probation officer about “intimidating” emails he had sent to a government witness he was forbidden from contacting before trial.
Now, prosecutors are trying keep from public view a defense expert's critical analysis of the FBI's sting operation that led to Pizzi's arrest last August on charges of accepting bribes in exchange for political favors.
The U.S. attorney's office deemed the matter so inflammatory for potential jurors that prosecutors filed a motion under seal Wednesday to keep the expert’s report and his testimony from being allowed as trial evidence. Prosecutors declined to comment on the motion, which a federal judge will address at a hearing on Monday.
Pizzi's lawyers fired back that the dispute over their expert, a retired FBI special agent, should be aired publicly and his analysis should be admitted at trial.
“They have failed to provide any real justification for litigating this matter in secret,” defense attorneys Ed Shohat and Ben Kuehne wrote in response to prosecutors’ sealed motion. “The government cites no law, court rule or court order to support its motion.”
Typically, federal prosecutors file motions under seal that include sensitive government information about cooperating witnesses or informants whose lives might be endangered if their identity is revealed publicly.
The defense attorneys revealed that their expert witness is Patrick Colgan, a former FBI special agent and supervisor who conducted organized crime investigations over a 28-year career in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston. They disclosed he has examined parts of the FBI’s undercover probe of Pizzi and will testify for the defense “as an expert in order to aid the jury in understanding how and why there is a lack of evidence at certain key junctures of this case.”
They added that Colgan’s “detailed report” was attached to the government’s motion to suppress his analysis and testimony as a witness.
“Today, the government seeks to completely hide from public view its challenge to this important evidence,” they wrote, arguing there was “no basis” for the prosecution’s “fears” that somehow the matter “could unnecessarily enflame potential jurors.”
Pizzi’s defense attorneys also questioned why prosecutors Jared Dwyer and Robert Senior had “concerns” about keeping this matter secret, yet took no precautions to guard against adverse pre-trial publicity when they sought to revoke Pizzi’s bond earlier this month.
Last week, a federal judge nearly sent Pizzi to jail after finding that he violated the terms of his bond and lied to a probation officer about it.
But U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke instead allowed Pizzi to remain free on bail before his July 8 trial on fraud charges of accepting $6,750 in bribes for supporting bogus federal grant applications.
“If you keep this up, you will be across the street,” Cooke told Pizzi, referring to the nearby Miami Federal Detention Center. “You will be in jail.”
Cooke, whose courtroom was packed with news reporters, took Pizzi to task for sending out two political email blasts to his supporters in April that were also received by potential government witnesses the former mayor was forbidden from contacting before trial.
Among the recipients: Miami Lakes Town Manager Alex Rey, whose administration was described as “corrupt” in Pizzi's unsigned emails. They referred to an actual Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission's ruling that found the town's former public works director violated a conflict of interest law.
Pizzi's probation officer, who had already put Pizzi on notice for sending out email blasts to no-contact witnesses earlier this year, told federal prosecutors that the former mayor lied when asked if he committed the same bond violation again in April. As a result, the U.S. attorney's office asked the judge to revoke Pizzi's $100,000 bond and detain him before his trial.