When Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi filed two lawsuits against his town for the $3.25 million to cover his legal expenses, he said his intention was for the town’s insurance company to foot the bill, not residents.
For now, that’s not happening.
The latest plot twist in Miami Lakes’ two-year-old legal saga is that the insurance company, Preferred Governmental Claim Services, has declined to cover the fees.
In a letter sent to town officials, the insurance company claims that Pizzi’s criminal case and reinstatement fees “are not considered damages” in the town’s coverage agreement, and therefore they will not cover the bill.
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Both the town and Pizzi say they don’t want residents to have to pay.
“Sometimes when the insurance company declines coverage you can appeal,” Town Manager Alex Rey said, adding that the town is exploring alternative scenarios.
Miami Lakes’ position is that the town is not responsible for all the of fees in the criminal case, as some of the alleged actions that led to Pizzi’s 2013 arrest stemmed from his role as attorney in Medley.
“If Mr. Pizzi seeks to collect his attorney’s fees, and is truly only concerned about seeking those fees from the insurance carrier, we will gladly sign our rights to file suit against the carrier to Mr. Pizzi,” said Town Attorney Raul Gastesi.
Meanwhile, Pizzi says the insurance company is to blame and has told his lawyers to work with the town to get the insurance company to pay.
“It’s really disingenuous for the insurance company to accept our tax money for more than 10 years and then refuse to accept and cover the claim,” said Pizzi who won his criminal case in August 2014, and returned to office in April after winning reinstatement.
When asked what would happen if the insurance company doesn’t change their minds, Pizzi said that he didn’t want to “speculate.”
Taxpayers are feeling the ramifications of the lawsuit in the new fiscal year, as committees are working with tighter budgets.
In addition, new beautification projects, capital improvements in the parks — other than projects already in construction — and additional policing aren’t covered in the budget.
Last month, the town’s insurance company also increased their premium at a rate of $50,000, due to the lawsuit.
Residents at a Starbucks in Miami Lakes were chatting about this during the week — all expressing their frustrations.
“I find it absolutely ridiculous that after all this time we’re still having the Pizzi argument,” said Chris Torres, 28, of Miami Lakes. “Does he have nothing better to do? If the taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill for his alleged indiscretion then what we do gain from having him back in office?”