Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi is not guilty of accepting payoffs during an undercover FBI sting, a jury ruled Thursday.
The verdict was handed down after more than a month of trial in which federal prosecutors portrayed Pizzi as a greedy politican who took accepted thousands in illegal cash in a smoky pool hall, a Starbucks and the closet of his city office.
Federal authorities arrested Pizzi in August 2013 after a two-year investigation that also netted the arrest of lobbyists Richard Candia and Jorge Forte, and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño.
Undercover FBI agents, working with lobbyist-turned-informant Michael Kesti, posed as crooked Chicago businessmen looking to pay off elected officials for supporting supposedly lucractive federal grants. Candia agreed to help them, suggesting Pizzi could help them in the scheme that would line the pockets of the supposed businessmen.
The same sting produced overwhelming evidence against allies Forte and Maroño, who pleaded guilty are now in prison.
But the evidence was far from clear cut in Pizzi’s case. The two-term mayor vowed to fight the charges, insisting he was trying to help the citizens of Miami Lakes and Medley, where he also served as town attorny.
During trial, his defense attorneys blasted the tactics of federal agents and the credibility of Candia, who ultimately testified against Pizzi.