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Two lobbyists, two Miami-area mayors and an FBI sting that reads like 'The Wire'

@MarcACaputo

Richard Candia, the center of a fraud and bribery scandal that resulted in the arrests of two mayors, was known to fellow South Florida lobbyists as a shy clean-cut honest person.

But FBI recordings show Candia was a schemer and bribe-carrying bagman who readily recruited Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and Miami Lakes Mayor Mike Pizzi into a scheme to defraud the federal government. First day story is here.

Caught on audio surveillance, the men all arranged illegal payments in a grant-fraud scheme during a series of meetings that took place at a Miami Heat basketball game, restaurants throughout the county, and a Miami Lakes pool hall where the FBI says Pizzi took a payment of $2,000 and two cigars in a Ziploc bag.

“[Maroño]'s not gonna be shy, shy to ask for shit. I mean there will be no end,” Candia told an undercover agent who brought him into the scheme to act as a recruiter of corrupt officials.

Candia was approach by a paid confidential informant in May 2011 with the scheme: Use a dummy Chicago company to fraudulently draw in federal grant money under the guise of needed projects in the respective cities.

It’s unclear if Maroño and Pizzi knew of the other’s alleged scheme.

Maroño went a step further than Pizzi, allegedly, and tried to recruit leaders of other municipalities by parlaying his role as Florida League of Cities leader. Maroño appeared to make more incriminating statements than Pizzi and allegedly referred to one payoff as a “souvenir.”

Maroño used his self-described “righthand man,” Jorge Luis Forte, to carry the money, the FBI said.

“If you talk to [FORTE], you talk to me," Maroño said at one point to the undercover entities.

“In Miami-Dade County, you want something from him, you don't call him, you call me,” Forte allegedly said. “It's just the way it works.”

In return for a portion of the fake grant’s proceeds, the FBI said, Maroño and Pizzi had to make bogus certifications for the dummy company that would receive the federal money through the respective cities.

Maroño said he needed to recruit mayors who know how to lie well, a trait he described as “knowing that you're fucking lying, but you gotta be able to have that charisma, to be able to pull it off, to bullshit her.”

Pizzi, who spoke more of city pride and solicited money directly for his campaign efforts, had far less swagger than Maroño.

He appeared to fear his office was bugged at one point, and pulled Candia into a closet to allegedly take a bribe.

But the office wasn’t bugged.

By this point, Candia had turned informant and was wearing a wire.

“I have reviewed, you can hear what I believe to be the opening of a door,” Paul J. Wright says in his affidavit.

The transcript reads like a script:

Pizzi: “Here, here.. What you got?”
[CANDIA provided PIZZI with the envelope of $3,000 in cash.]
Candia: “That's three.”
Pizzi: “OK. You did good.”

Enjoy the indictments.

Download Pizzi, Michael et al Complaint

Download Marono, Manuel et al Complaint

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