August 7, 2013|By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel
In February, Hollywood-based Becker & Poliakoff law firm, one of South Florida’s top lobbying shops, trumpeted a big expansion of its lobbying practice.
Now, one of the lobbyists Becker & Poliakoff was so happy to have, Richard F. Candia, is facing federal corruption charges as part of two separate cases, each of which the U.S. Attorney’s Office described as a “kickback and bribery scheme.”
In February the firm announced it had acquired the Miami-based Fuentes Rodriguez Consulting Group, which represents private and public clients at the local, state and federal level. It’s lobbyists joined Becker & Poliakoff’s “enlarged lobbying team to provide strategic advice to clients.”
“Jose, Rich, Dan and George will give Becker & Poliakoff unprecedented access to key policy makers in Miami-Dade, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.,” said Bernie Friedman, chairman of the government law and lobbying practice said in a statement in February. The “Rich” is the one whose indictment was announced Tuesday.
Candia worked for U.S. Rep Mario Diaz-Balart when the congressman was a state senator and has lobbied on behalf of Florida International University and the University of Miami.
On Wednesday morning, Candia’s name and profile was gone from Bedker & Poliakoff’s website. A Google search that leads to the page that used to have his profile says: “The file you were searching for cannot be found. Please use the search box above to locate a document, or use the links at the top and bottom of this page.”
From the U.S. Attorney’s office Tuesday news release:
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, announce that four individuals have been charged in two separate complaints involving public corruption allegations. The first complaint charges Manuel L. Maroño, 41, the Mayor of Sweetwater, and two lobbyists, Jorge L. Forte, 41, and Richard F. Candia, 49, all of Miami, for their alleged participation in a kickback and bribery scheme (the Maroño complaint) in connection with purported federal grants for the City of Sweetwater. The second complaint charges Michael A. Pizzi, 51, the Mayor of Miami Lakes and Town Attorney for the Town of Medley, and Richard F. Candia, in a separate kickback and bribery scheme in connection with purported federal grants for both Miami Lakes and Medley (the Pizzi complaint). Both complaints charge the defendants with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1951(a)
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Our democracy suffers when, as in these cases, elected officials use their power and political influence for personal gain instead of for the public good. Public corruption, at any level of government, corrodes and undermines the public’s confidence in our system of government. We are committed to stopping this corrosion and to help restore transparency to local government.”
“For the public to have confidence in their government, they must be certain that their elected officials will not use their position for personal gain,” said Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “We encourage anyone who may have information about corruption to come forward and report it. This information is critical to our work. The South Florida community can be assured that public corruption will remain a top priority for the FBI.”
The defendants made their initial appearances in federal court today at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of up to twenty years in prison.
The investigation began in approximately June 2011, when Candia began dealing with an FBI confidential source and two undercover FBI agents posing as the owners of a Chicago-based grant administration business. During meetings, the undercover agents represented to Candia that, with the aid of corrupt local public officials, they could obtain federal grant moneys, which they would then keep and distribute among themselves. After listening to the undercover agents’ proposal, Candia identified Maroño and Pizzi as potential participants in the scheme.
The Sweetwater Deal—Manuel Maroño