Published on Thursday, August 22, 2013
The Miami Herald
BY PARADISE AFSHAR AND THEO KARANTSALIS
Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has stepped down from his role as Medley town attorney. His resignation — which is effective Thursday — was announced during a special council meeting Wednesday night by John Griffin, a labor attorney.
“I am happy that the matter was resolved amicably and with class and professionalism,” Pizzi said in a phone interview with the Miami Herald. “In my entire career as a public servant, and as an attorney, I have always acted in the public’s and my client’s best interest.”
On Aug. 6 Pizzi was arrested by federal agents in his Miami Lakes office on charges of conspiring to commit extortion.
“I fully expect to be exonerated,” Pizzi said. “But as an attorney I feel right now, with the distraction going on and the necessity of me resolving my personal issue, I made the determination that this will be in the best interest of the people of Medley.”
Pizzi’s resignation comes with terms, which the council approved unanimously. They include his signing a general release and returning any town property he may have.
Pizzi has also agreed to assist with the transition to a new town attorney, if needed. Pizzi earned $192,000 annually and will receive 20 weeks severance pay, which translates to about $73,845.
Pizzi, who has served as Medley’s attorney since 2011, won’t be succeed by a full-time attorney.
Instead, the council decided in a 3-2 vote to have Stephen Helfman serve as the town’s interim attorney. Councilwoman Susan Guasch and Vice Mayor Griselia Digiacomo dissented. Helfman, of Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza Cole & Boniske, was one of 11 applicants who made five-minute presentations to the council during the special meeting.
“We have been interim council in many cases like this,” said Helfman following the vote. “We are confident that we can put them back on track.”
The terms of Helfman’s contact will be reviewed by each of the town’s staff, council members and the mayor before final approval. His contract is expected to be on a temporary basis until December when the council will review his performance.
Pizzi was arrested in his Miami Lakes offices on charges of working with lobbyist Richard Candia to champion purported federal grant applications for Miami Lakes and Medley in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes. Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño and Miami lobbyist Jorge Forte were both arrested as part of the same operation.
“Medley is what I am concerned with,” Councilman Jack Morrow said after the meeting in reference to Pizzi’s arrest. “I’ve lived here since 1972, and it’s an embarrassment.”
In the days following Pizzi’s arrest, Gov. Rick Scott suspended him from his role as Miami Lakes mayor. As a result, the town will hold a special election on Oct. 1. Maroño was also suspended in Sweetwater.
At the moment, Pizzi remains in good standing with the Florida Bar.
“If there is a conviction on felony charges, the Bar seeks a suspension of the attorney’s right to practice law, as the Bar’s discipline case against the attorney moves forward,” said Susannah Lyle, a Florida Bar spokeswoman, in an email. “If there is a felony conviction, there is a presumption of disbarment. “
As he awaits trial Pizzi said he is continuing his practice as a criminal defense attorney.
“I’m still practicing law,” said Pizzi. Councilman Morrow said Pizzi was in his Medley law offices Tuesday night to collect his personal belongings.
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