The suspended Miami Lakes mayor facing public corruption charges pleaded not guilty in federal court Friday.
Michael Pizzi, who allegedly received $5,000 in kickbacks for a Miami Lakes grant deal, entered the plea during a brief hearing Friday morning.
Surrounded by supporters, Pizzi spoke with reporters after the hearing, saying he won't be taking a plea deal.
"I am innocent and I will be exonerated and found not guilty at trial," Pizzi said. "I want to thank all the dozens of residents of Miami Lakes who took a day off of work, a lot of these people took a day off of work to come here and show their support for me."
"All of us who have become familiar with this case, believe that he is innocent in the case," said Pizzi's attorney, Ed Shohat. "We're gonna come to court fully armed to demonstrate Mike's innocence in this case."
Hours before the hearing on Thursday night, Pizzi said he did nothing wrong and vowed to clear his name.
"After all this, I finally get to go to court tomorrow and see what if anything they’re going to charge me with. And then I get to plead not guilty and to plead my innocence, and then I get to pick a day to go to trial and prove my innocence,” Pizzi told NBC 6 South Florida. “Hopefully that will happen quickly and I could come back and continue serving the people of Miami Lakes.”
Pizzi, 51, and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono were arrested Aug. 6 following an undercover FBI operation that also produced the arrests of lobbyists Richard Candia and Jorge Forte. Candia introduced Pizzi to undercover FBI agents to help implement the plan that paid the mayors thousands of dollars in bribes under a federal grant scheme, authorities said.
Pizzi is accused of backdating documents, misleading undercover agents and receiving cash payoffs in carrying out the scheme.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott suspended both mayors from office after their arrests. Pizzi was later released on $50,000 bond, and Marono on $250,000 bond.
Candia is also due to appear in court Friday.
Marono and Forte, his onetime chief of staff, pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiring to commit honest services fraud in federal court in Miami last Friday.
More on NBC6.com:
- Man Admitted Shooting Sean Taylor: Detective
- Defendant in Bad Butt Injections Case Pleads Guilty
- Cab Driver Who Ran Over Intoxicated Man Charged: BSO