Miami Lakes

Miami Lakes Mayor Pizzi sues for $3.2 million legal fees in criminal, reinstatement cases

Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has sued to cover $3.2 million in legal fees.
Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has sued to cover $3.2 million in legal fees. Miami Herald File

Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has filed two lawsuits demanding that the town pay roughly $3.2 million to cover his legal fees associated with his federal criminal case and reinstatement.

The lawsuits are the latest development in the ongoing legal drama that has kept Pizzi and Miami Lakes in the headlines for the past two years. The mayor won the criminal case in August 2014, and his reinstatement case in April.

“I want nothing more than what every falsely accused and exonerated public official is entitled to under the law,” Pizzi told the Miami Herald on Wednesday.

Attorneys for Miami Lakes’ insurance company Brown & Brown are representing the town in these talks.

Now, the question of how much of those fees will be covered by insurance remains up in the air.

David Reiner, one of Pizzi’s lawyers, said in an email to the Miami Herald that Pizzi would like the town to “join him in ending this amicably and is asking the town to join his request that the insurance company pay the claim, which totals roughly $3,000,000, as opposed to burdening the taxpayers and without further litigation expense.”

The town and Pizzi presenting a united front may be easier said than done.

While both parties may be on the same side when it comes to wanting the insurance company to pay up — and avoiding passing the bill onto taxpayers — they may find themselves at odds again if the insurance company  doesn’t pay the whole amount owed, or an amount the town isn’t comfortable with.

“The first step will be to see how much the insurance company covers because there are others players,” said Town Manager Alex Rey, pointing out that some of the alleged actions that led to Pizzi’s 2013 arrest on federal bribery charges stemmed from his role as town attorney in Medley.

“The criminal case is complicated,” Rey said.

Of the amount requested, about $750,000 is associated with the reinstatement case, which was filed in January and concluded in April, and the rest associated with the federal case, which Pizzi was acquitted of in August 2014.

Miami Lakes has set aside $250,000 in the town’s upcoming budget in the event the money is needed to cover the reinstatement case. At the time the money was set aside, the amount for the criminal case was unknown by town officials.

“It’s sad that he’s making the people of Miami Lakes pay for that. I will not vote to give him one penny, unless the court says so,” Councilman Frank Mingo said. “These are his indiscretions and his actions and the people of Miami Lakes should not have to pay for his personal actions.”

Town Attorney Raul Gastesi echoes those views.

“The mayor’s lack of judgment has now led the town into more litigation,” he said, adding that the suit may result in more legal bills.

Benedict Kuehne, an attorney representing Pizzi, calls the lawsuit a necessary step because lawyers have, to date, not been paid for their services. Reiner adds that the suit is also a procedural move.

Pizzi says he doesn’t view the suits as a move against the town.

“This is not about Michael Pizzi vs. the town; this is about Michael Pizzi vs. the insurance company,” Pizzi said. “In reality, it’s not a lawsuit against the town; it’s a claim against the insurance company.”

Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.