Suspended Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono Pleads Guilty

Marono and lobbyist Jorge Forte are scheduled for a change of plea hearing at 10 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale

Suspended Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono apologized to the city's residents after he pleaded guilty to a public corruption charge at a hearing in federal court Wednesday morning.

Marono and lobbyist Jorge Forte pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to commit honest services fraud. The change of plea is part of an expected plea deal. Marono and Forte are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 23, 2014.

In court, Marono was asked by the judge why he became involved in the scandal.

"I did it for personal benefit," Marono said.

After the hearing, Marono apologized to his family and the City of Sweetwater.

"First of all I want to apologize to my family and the constituents of the City of Sweetwater. I'm very proud of the accomplishments in 18 years that we've done for the city, the progress that we've accomplished in the city," Marono said. "Today I'm here to accept responsibility, to move on, a new chapter in our life, and I want to thank first all the supporters, my family, the residents of the City of Sweetwater who supported me, that prayed for me, and also to pray for the new administration, and to help that city move on forward.

"The city is bigger than one person, the city needs to move on."

Marono and Forte, his onetime chief of staff, had entered not guilty pleas last month. They were initially charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.

Forte's attorney, David Weinstein, noted his client's cooperation when discussing sentencing Wednesday.

"At the end of January the judge will impose a sentence that we believe given what Mr. Forte has done in the past and since that time will reflect an appropriate punishment," Weinstein said.

The two were arrested in August after an undercover FBI operation revealed they were pocketing thousands of dollars in kickbacks while seeking federal grants, authorities said.

Marono was removed as head of the Florida League of Cities following the arrest. He was released on $250,000 bond.

Marono was arrested the same day Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi was arrested on similar charges. Pizzi maintains that he's innocent.

The charge against Marono and Forte carried a prison term of up to five years.

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