NOVEMBER 14, 2013
A south Florida mayor with close ties to Governor Rick Scott has pleaded guilty to public corruption for participating in a scheme involving the theft of federal grants earmarked for his tiny working class city.
The plot involves a small-town mayor, Manuel Maroño, with big-time political ties to prominent Republicans. In fact, Maroño was a rising star in the party and played a key role in Scott’s transition team in 2011. The disgraced politician even launched a “business development” firm called 7 Strategies after the governor’s 7-step plan to create 700,000 jobs in 7 years.
But everything went downhill in early August when the feds indicted Maroño and a longtime mayor pal of a neighboring city for operating a brazen scheme to steal federal grants that were supposed to help their respective towns. The mayors teamed up with two prominent lobbyists, one of whom worked for U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart when the Republican lawmaker was a state legislator.
Large sums of cash were exchanged in envelopes and hidden in notebooks during covert meetings in cars and at local eateries, according to federal prosecutors, who claimed in separate complaints that the lobbyists went around recruiting corrupt politicians to participate in the scheme. In all, tens of thousands of dollars were exchanged with hefty cash bonuses for making introductions to other public officials willing to participate in the kickback and bribery operation.
Both mayors abused their power to enact measures to help fake companies get federal grants made available only upon the official request of local municipalities, authorities say. Maroño collaborated with both lobbyists and pocketed more than $40,000 in bribes, according to his federal complaint. The money was supposed to help the 13,000 constituents in his working-class town of Sweetwater, which barely spans a square mile.
Upon getting indicted Maroño paraded around town confidently guaranteeing that his innocence would quickly vindicate him. At his side was his mother, a Sweetwater councilwoman, who led a media campaign professing her son’s innocence. This week, however, the former mayor marched into a federal court in Miami and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January and faces five years in prison.
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