Meantime the District is busy as ever. Our new Chief Judge, K. Michael Moore, tried 3 cases in a week. Judge Altonaga just tried a case with two juries. And Judge Scola interestingly had a trial with a deaf juror.
Of course, the marathon trial involving former Mayor Pizzi is slogging forward. The Herald has the update on that trial. I wonder how much this trial -- about a supposed bribe of $6,000 -- is costing. Anyway, here's the update:
Candia testified that he gave the $1,000 bribe to Pizzi in December 2012, arranged another $2,000 payoff at a Miami Lakes billiard club in Feburary 2013 and, after he flipped for the feds, gave the mayor a final $3,000 bribe in a storage closet at Medley Town Hall in July of last year.
Pizzi’s defense team claims the mayor never received the $1,000; accepted the $2,000 in a cigar bag but gave it away without realizing the money was stuffed inside; and took the $3,000 as a reimbursement for a personal expense on behalf of a Miami Lakes political action committee.
Pizzi’s defense strategy has been to raise critical doubts about his accepting the bribes in return for political favors. It has also aimed to discredit Candia and the lead FBI undercover agent. Both admitted on the witness stand that the mayor had not been involved in any actual corrupt activity before the undercover operation was launched against Pizzi and numerous other South Florida mayors and officials in 2011.
The sting operation originated when the FBI retained a Miami-Dade lobbyist, Michael Kesti — code name “Stingray” — as an informant. Kesti directed them to Candia, who was close to Pizzi and other small-town mayors.
Last week, Candia testified in detail about his role in the three alleged bribes. The lobbyist said that Pizzi, after getting “spooked” when the undercover agents described the federal grant program as a “money grab” in February 2012, agreed to reconnect with them after his re-election victory that November.
Candia, who had raised thousands of dollars for Pizzi’s campaign through the lobbyist’s own political action committee, testified that the mayor approached him about getting involved again in the grant program.
“Mr. Pizzi brought it up with me,” Candia testified.
That led to a dinner at Shula’s steakhouse on Dec. 13, 2012, where Candia, Kesti, the FBI informant, the undercover agents and Pizzi discussed the federal grant scheme. It was pitched as a no-cost way for municipalities to obtain government funds for a jobs study and economic development.At dinner, Pizzi told the lobbyist and the undercover agents posing as the Chicago businessmen that he wanted them to donate money to his upcoming Christmas toy drive that weekend. FBI recordings of the meal revealed that they did not take the mayor seriously.
Later that night at the nearby billiard club, Pizzi told Candia that he wanted $1,000. And the lobbyist relayed that message to the undercover agents.
Candia told them that Pizzi wanted the money to “buy toys for kids,” according to the undercover recordings.
Pizzi’s attorney, Shohat, confronted the lobbyist about his statement on the tape, saying it showed that the mayor did not want anything for himself.
Although Candia admitted saying that, he testified he meant it “sarcastically.”
The next day, Candia, still a target of the probe, met with the undercover agents at a Holiday Inn in Miami Lakes. They gave him 10 $100 bills in a white envelope to give to Pizzi, the lobbyist testified. He also said they gave him an endorsement letter for the federal grant application in Medley, so Pizzi could sign it.
According to the undercover recordings, Candia later spoke with the FBI informant, Kesti, who asked: “Was [Pizzi] happy with the, uh, the gift?”
Candia’s response: “Abso-, absolutely.”