Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño picked up the phone on May 10, 2012. It was a federal auditor asking about a $200,000 grant that was supposed to pay for an economic development study in his small West Miami-Dade city.
There was no study, and Maroño knew that. But he lied to the auditor, planning to share $40,000 of the money in a sweetheart deal for him and his closest lobbyist pal, according to federal prosecutors.
What Maroño didn’t know was the auditor was an undercover FBI agent. So were the purported Chicago businessmen who had offered to draft the bogus feasibility study in exchange for a cut. Maroño called them four days later.
“Yo,” he said about his exchange with the auditor. “It went fantastic.”
Fifteen months later, Maroño and the lobbyist, Jorge Forte, would be arrested, charged with conspiracy to commit extortion for allegedly accepting $60,000 in kickbacks for pushing phony grant applications in Sweetwater and` trying to get other cities to join in.
Maroño’s downfall came at the peak of a political career that has spanned nearly two decades. He controlled a fiercely loyal city. He basked in statewide exposure as president of the Florida League of Cities. He had the ear of Gov. Rick Scott.