Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has been acquitted by a federal jury on charges that he took a nearly $7,000 kickback for supporting a grant for his city.
Pizzi, along with Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono and two lobbyists, were arrested by FBI agents back in October 2013. An undercover FBI agents bribed Pizzi to support grants.
Pizzi however maintained that the sting was a result of questionable tactics.
As Riptide reported this past May, transcripts that were entered into evidence suggested prosecutors' case had some glaring holes. There was no smoking gun against Pizzi, and conversations on the record suggested he was cautious with the undercover agents:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In the criminal complaint and Pizzi's motion appear to support that claim and that Kesti --codenamed "Stingray" by FBI agents -- tried to entrap Pizzi. (Kesti declined comment as he has in previous requests for interviews. A local FBI spokesman also did not want to comment.)
For instance, on February 29, 2012, after wining and dining the mayor at Smith & Wollensky in South Beach, one of the undercover agents posing as businessman "Andy Gardner" informed Pizzi that the grant they were applying for was a sham, according to the criminal complaint.
"You understand a lot of what we are doing is just bogus," Gardner said. "What we are doing here is just grabbing money."
"I can't do it if it's just bogus," Pizzi replied. "That I can't do."
The following morning, Kesti called him at the behest of the undercover agents, according to the transcripts in Pizzi's motion.
"But Andy is a legit guy?" Pizzi inquired. "You vouch for these guys?"
"Oh yeah," Kesti assured. "I am proud to say I am very picky with who I deal with."
Pizzi informed Kesti that he's uncomfortable with what Gardner told him. "They pissed me off in terms of the way they described the program," Pizzi said. "I am assuming it might have been the alcohol or just speaking out of turn or something like that. Quite frankly, I don't know why they felt the necessity to have a discussion like that."
Kesti couldn't get Pizzi to take the bait. "You got to admit, you came through for them like no one has," Kesti said. "They want you to know that and they want to share the wealth with you."
"I am as wealthy as I want to be," Pizzi replied. "I know they want to be nice and they want to do that. But in our position these days there are so many people out to get you. You gotta be fucking careful because people get the wrong impression you know what I am saying? I think you understand that...We are the good guys. We are the people trying to change things the right way."
The jury had been deliberating since Tuesday afternoon, and earlier in the day sent the judge a question about entrapment.
The jurors apparently sided with Pizzi's defense and acquitted of him of all charges.