In the days after his August 6 arrest on federal bribery charges, Michael Pizzi walked around shellshocked and despondent. In a blockbuster moment for public corruption fighters, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had nabbed the Miami Lakes mayor; his counterpart in Sweetwater, Manuel Maroño; and two lobbyists allegedly accepting payoffs in a pair of separate undercover stings. Gov. Rick Scott swiftly suspended both mayors from office in a scandal that made national headlines.
Even by Miami-Dade's shady record of politicians doing the perp walk, the bust of two sitting mayors the same morning was a shocker that no one saw coming, especially Pizzi. Slumped over a sofa at Billiard Club in Miami Lakes, where he allegedly accepted from an undercover FBI agent a wad of cash and cigars stuffed into an envelope, Pizzi looked defeated. "I'm done," he told Riptide in a brief meeting at the time. "It's over."
What a difference a month makes. During a recent followup with Riptide, Pizzi was his old pugnacious self again.
For the first time since his arrest, he went on the record, specifically about the man who served him up to the feds: Michael Kesti, a Palmetto Bay lobbyist and businessman who was outed by the Miami Herald as the FBI's unnamed paid informant. "I didn't do anything wrong," Pizzi says. "I will be exonerated. If anyone perpetrated fraud, it was Kesti."
Kesti hung up on Riptide before we could ask him for a response. He also did not respond to messages sent via text and email.
According to Pizzi's indictment, he allegedly accepted $6,000 in cash and $750 in campaign contributions in exchange for pushing through two resolutions in Miami Lakes and Medley (where he was town attorney) authorizing him to apply for federal grants through a Chicago-based outfit named Sunshine Universal. It was really a fake company set up by the feds to fool Pizzi. Kesti vouched for the two undercover FBI agents posing as Sunshine's owners.
Pizzi accuses Kesti of misleading him and manipulating him into pushing through the two resolutions so he could cash in on a lucrative payday as a snitch. He notes a health-care company owned by Kesti that was forced into bankruptcy by its creditors in 2000 had the case discharged a month before his arrest.
"He's not Deep Throat," Pizzi says. "He's the Watergate burglar."
Pizzi is free on $100,000 bond. His arraignment is scheduled for September 20.