- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

MIAMI (AP) - Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi was acquitted Thursday in a federal corruption case in which he was accused of accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as shady businessmen.

A Miami federal jury cleared Pizzi of all seven counts after deliberating for parts of two days following a month-long trial. Pizzi attorney Ben Kuehne, who represented the mayor along with Ed Shohat, said he has already asked Gov. Rick Scott to reinstate Pizzi as mayor of the Miami suburb.

“From day one, I always said I was innocent,” a jubilant, fist-pumping Pizzi told reporters outside the downtown courthouse. “Today, I have been vindicated and I have been exonerated.”

Pizzi was accused of accepting $6,750 in payments between 2011 and 2013 from the undercover agents in exchange for his help in obtaining federal grant money for both Miami Lakes and the nearby town of Medley, where he was the city attorney. The agents, pretending to be businessmen, told Pizzi they intended to keep the hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money for themselves.

Pizzi’s lawyers, however, portrayed him as honest and the victim of entrapment by overzealous FBI agents looking to make a high-profile arrest.

“It is impossible that Mike Pizzi could have corrupt intent,” Shohat said in a closing argument.

Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said he was disappointed but respects the jury’s verdict. A lobbyist also charged in the case, Richard Candia, previously pleaded guilty and testified against Pizzi. Candia is awaiting a September sentencing date.

Pizzi, who had faced up to 50 years in prison if convicted, is one of several Miami-area mayors to face corruption charges in recent months.

The same FBI sting operation resulted in corruption charges against former Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono, who pleaded guilty and is now imprisoned along with another lobbyist.

Earlier this year, former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina was acquitted in a federal tax evasion case unrelated to the Marono-Pizzi sting. The former mayor of Homestead, Steve Bateman, is awaiting trial on state corruption charges and North Miami’s suspended mayor, Marie Lucie Tondreau, has pleaded not guilty in federal court to participating in an $11 million mortgage fraud scheme.

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

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