Federal jury to decide fate of Miami-area mayor in corruption trial

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 12, 2014 5:24 PM

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Miami federal jury began deliberations on Tuesday to decide the fate of a Miami-area mayor accused of accepting thousands of dollars from FBI agents during an undercover sting operation.

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, 51, was arrested last August and pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and four counts of attempted extortion. If convicted, he faces a maximum 40 years in prison.

In closing statements on Tuesday, prosecutors attempted to paint Pizzi as a corrupt politician who took envelopes of cash in backroom deals in exchange for awarding city contracts to FBI agents posing as representatives of a Chicago consulting firm.

“What kind of politician demands money for sponsoring a program that’s ‘good for the city?’” Assistant United States Attorney Robert Senior said.

Federal prosecutors charged that Pizzi accepted $750 in campaign contributions and three cash payments of $1,000 to $3,000 each from early 2012 to mid-2013 for his support.

Pizzi’s defense rehashed the former mayor’s record as a self-described “leading gadfly,” parole officer and longtime public official.

“Mike realized these guys from Chicago were pay to play guys who think it is appropriate to pay off politicians,” said his attorney Ed Shohat.

He framed the investigation, which hinged on the cooperation of a lobbyist-turned-informant and the testimony of the convicted “bag man” in the case, as entrapment and a “bait and switch.”

Shohat said Pizzi agreed to support the contract long before an offer was made, and that agents repeatedly tried to coerce Pizzi into asking for money.

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“There was no explicit quid pro quo,” Shohat said.

Pizzi is one of a number of Miami-area politicians to face public corruption charges over the past year.

He was indicted along with Manuel Maroño, a former mayor of Miami suburb Sweetwater.

Maroño began serving a 40-month sentence in February after pleading guilty to accepting thousands in kickbacks for signing off on bogus government grant applications.

The mayor of North Miami was also suspended from office in May a day after she was charged as part of an alleged $8 million mortgage fraud scheme.

(Editing by David Adams and Eric Walsh)