Since his arrest in August, suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has defiantly claimed he committed no crime after he was accused of accepting $6,000 in an alleged cash-for-contract scam.
On Friday, the two-term mayor pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with seeking kickbacks in exchange for sponsoring federal grant applications that prosecutors say were meant to enrich him.
Pizzi, indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in Miami, is charged with conspiring to commit extortion and four counts of attempted bribery. If convicted at trial, each count carries up to 20 years in prison.
Pizzi made his name as a maverick populist who took on top Miami-Dade officials, developers and rock miners over the county’s westward expansion. But since his suspension as Miami Lakes’ mayor following the FBI’s sting operation, Pizzi has lost his public pulpit.
In emails sent to the Miami Herald this week, the 51-year-old politician has complained of the negative coverage, saying he deserves a “balanced picture” of his career as a “people’s champion with no record of corruption during my tenure as mayor.”