On July 9, a 12-person federal jury heard testimony that the former mayor of Miami Lakes, Florida accepted bribes during a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation last August. According to prosecutors, undercover FBI agents arrested the 51-year-old defendant after he allegedly accepted a clear plastic bag that contained two cigars and an envelope filled with $2,000 in bribe money.
Prosecutors allege the former mayor picked up the bag containing the cigars and money, which had been left for him in a local pool hall and disappeared with it into a bathroom. Authorities say the mayor later emerged from the bathroom without the package visible in his hands.
Defense attorneys representing the mayor dispute that claim. Although they admit the mayor grabbed the bag from a bar table, they say the defendant was unaware it contained any money. According to them, the mayor actually gave the cigars away to someone else in the establishment, believing the bag only contain cigars. The defense has said that they plan to call that person to testify as part of their strategy to counter the bribery allegations.
Federal investigators first began looking into whether the defendant was engaging in corrupt practices back in 2011. The FBI hired a consultant/lobbyist and paid him $114,000 in an effort to uncover Miami area politicians who were on the take. In conjunction with the FBI, the lobbyist allegedly helped convince the defendant into believing he was assisting a pair of unscrupulous Chicago businessman looking to obtain federal grants in a development scam.
The trial is expected to last one month. Of the four men originally arrested as part of this sting operation, the former mayor is the only one who has not agreed to a guilty plea.
Although white collar crimes are often portrayed as nonviolent in nature, they still carry heavy civil and criminal penalties. Defendants charged with Internet crimes, tax fraud, bribery, forgery and a host of other similar infractions can still receive lengthy prison sentences if convicted. Defendants charged with such crimes should take steps to ensure that their legal rights are not imperiled.
White-collar crime defendants should know that in many cases, the prosecution may be willing to negotiate a plea settlement in exchange for reduced charges. Depending on the circumstances, that could mean that a defendant might avoid a lengthy prison sentence by means of a well negotiated guilty plea.
Source: Miami Herald, "Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi gave away cash bribe along with cigars, defense argues" Jay Weaver, Jul. 09, 2014