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2 Florida mayors accused after FBI bribery and corruption sting

On Tuesday morning, the mayors of Miami Lakes and Sweetwater were arrested and charged with engaging in a federal bribery and public corruption conspiracy. Each is accused of conspiring with lobbyists, who have also been arrested, to push fraudulent federal grant applications through the system in exchange for kickbacks. The formal charges are conspiracy to commit extortion in their roles as public officials.

According to the Miami Herald, the arrests were the result of a two-year FBI sting operation that was initiated after a confidential tip. In order to incriminate the two mayors and the lobbyists, FBI agents posed as businessmen proposing a kickback scheme, and then later as federal auditors pretending to check on how the money from the allegedly fraudulent grants was being spent.

The Herald also said that other public officials in Florida were targeted in the investigation but “wouldn’t bite.”

Both of the mayors accused of bribery and public corruption have been rising stars in Florida. Sweetwater’s mayor, a former long-term member of the city commission before his election, is the president of the Florida League of Cities and runs a public affairs and business development firm with one of the accused lobbyists. The Mayor of Miami Lakes is a lawyer and a former federal probation officer who served on the city council before being elected in 2008.

According to the FBI, each mayor worked with one or both of the accused lobbyists, one of whom was cooperating with federal agents, in allegedly illegal schemes to obtain federal grants.

In the case of Sweetwater’s mayor, the allegations are that undercover FBI agents, posing as businessmen, had come up with a scheme to fraudulently obtain grants through AmeriCorps and divert it for their personal use. In exchange for the mayor’s help pushing through two grants on behalf of Sweetwater and Medley, where is the town attorney, the FBI said he was given $6,000 plus a $750 campaign donation. The mayor of Miami Lakes was pursued by the same FBI agents proposing the same scheme and allegedly split some $60,000 with the lobbyists.

Both mayors are accused of personally sponsoring and endorsing the federal grant applications and then lying when FBI agents posing as AmeriCorps auditors appeared to check on how the grants were being spent.

The allegations were met with stunned disbelief by most observers, according to the Herald. The deputy mayor of Miami Lakes, for example, pointed to the mayor’s simple lifestyle and his appearance as someone who wasn’t driven by greed. The mayor’s lawyers said that “We know him as an attorney, a public official and a man of integrity, and today begins his fight for vindication.”

Source: The Miami Herald, "Miami Lakes and Sweetwater mayors ‘stung’ by FBI for taking alleged kickbacks," Jay Weaver, Christina Veigand Joey Flechas, Aug. 6, 2013

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