@jayhweaver @ChuckRabin @PatriciaMazzei
On May 26, 2011, a South Florida lobbyist approached the FBI with a tip: He suspected that another lobbyist he knew was in bed with corrupt local politicians, and that they would be open to lining their pockets.
The informant was brought on board to make introductions. He hooked up undercover FBI agents with the suspect lobbyist, Richard Candia, and set up meetings between them and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.
Then the agents, who posed as Chicago businessmen, bluntly made their pitch: Let’s all join forces in a lucrative kickback scheme disguised as a legitimate federal grant program.
Thus began a two-year investigation that culminated Tuesday with the arrests of Pizzi, Candia and two others accused of involvement in the fraud: Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and his close friend and business partner, lobbyist Jorge Forte.
The arrests rocked Miami-Dade politicians and the county’s robust lobbying corps, whose members spent days wondering: Who broke ranks and turned one of their own into the feds?
The informant was Michael Kesti, a Palmetto Bay-based lobbyist with ties to the healthcare industry and a long history of civic engagement in South Miami-Dade, sources familiar with the investigation have confirmed to the Miami Herald.
Kesti, 52, played a far more significant role in the Pizzi investigation than the Maroño probe. In the Pizzi case, Kesti not only discussed the purported grant scheme with the Miami Lakes mayor and Candia but also vouched for the undercover FBI agents who said they operated a grant-application company called Sunshine Universal.