Except for a stint as manager of tiny North Bay Village, lobbyist and consultant Jorge Forte stayed pretty much under the public radar.
But that didn’t stop him from handily riding the coattails of rising politico and Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño, Forte’s longtime friend and business partner. Forte leveraged the relationship to push through city legislation, get government contracts — and haul in tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from undercover FBI agents, prosecutors alleged last week.
Maroño was arrested Aug. 6. A day later, Forte, his confidant and alleged bagman, was charged. Both are accused of conspiring to commit extortion for allegedly accepting $60,000 in kickbacks for championing “bogus” grant applications in Sweetwater, and trying to lure other Florida cities into the scheme.
The complaint filed by the FBI portrays Forte, 41, as the Maroño’s “front man” — the buffer who protected the mayor, spoke for the mayor and collected the mayor’s money starting in the fall of 2011.
In March 2012, during a secretly recorded meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, the lobbyist warned undercover FBI agents posing as crooked Chicago businessmen that they had to go through him to get to Maroño.
“In Miami-Dade County, you want something from him, you don’t call him, you call me .. . It’s just the way it works,” Forte said. Maroño later referred to his sidekick as his “right-hand man.”