The case of Pizzi vs. Miami Lakes is nearly settled

Community By Linda Trischitta, Editor Friday, June 7, 2024

Litigation between former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and the town is nearly settled, the parties said.

After a federal jury found in 2014 that Pizzi was not guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery, he sought to have the town pay more than $2.5 million in legal fees.

On Friday, he said that he and the town agreed that the municipality will pay him $1.625 million, spread out in three payments made over three fiscal years, beginning with the current one and ending in January, 2026.

“I am happy this got resolved and I’m happy that after more that 10 years, we can all put this issue behind us and move forward,” Pizzi said on June 7.
Pizzi was mayor in 2013 when the FBI arrested him in a sting, and Gov. Rick Scott suspended him from office.
After Pizzi was acquitted and reinstated as mayor, he sued the town to recover the costs of his defense, which is allowed under state law.

Since 2015, the town has fought paying Pizzi’s attorneys and previously cited a policy that would allow it to decide whether to provide a lawyer for a town official, according to court documents. It also disputed some fee amounts.

In a discussion between the town council and Town Attorney Raul Gastesi during the April 2024 meeting, the lawyer said going to trial in August and continuing to fight the case was too risky and was getting expensive.

The town said Friday that next week it would provide the total amount spent on its defense over the life of the Pizzi case. Money has been kept in reserves for this purpose and insurance has covered some of the costs, Councilman Josh Dieguez said.

Dieguez and Councilman Bryan Morera, who are both attorneys, and Council members Luis Collazo and Marilyn Ruano all said during the council meeting that it was in the town’s best interest to settle.

“Clients that argue it’s the principle of the matter are exactly the kind of clients we love,” Dieguez said then. “They’re going to spend money and money and money and the next thing you know, they’ve lost a lot more than the original case is worth. … For those clients willing to pay that, great. Attorneys love that.

“But we’re not in the private sector, we’re in the public sector,” Dieguez said. “Continuing this case is requiring our taxpayers, including ourselves, [to continue] to spend money for the hope that we might be proven right at the end. How much more money will we spend?”

He said money that would be spent on continuing the Pizzi case could instead go toward municipal wish list items such as adding a police officer to the town’s force, trimming the tree canopy and cleaning parks.

The council voted to give Gastesi the authority to make the offer, which Pizzi verbally accepted in late May, Gastesi said.

“The way litigation was going, there was significant rulings by the court [over the duration of the case], new judges came on and it didn’t look good for the town [to win],” Gastesi said on June 7.

Gastesi said documents were finalized between the parties “and we agreed to it.”

The final documents have to be signed by Gastesi and Town Manager Edward Pidermann, which on June 7 Pizzi called “a formality.”

Pidermann said of the settlement, “It will give us more certainty moving forward, knowing that this cloud is no longer over our heads.

It is a boatload of money. For the next couple of years, it’s going to be painful but will bring an end to a horrible saga.”

Pizzi said about the negotiations, “Great efforts were made to work with the town to do this in a way that minimized the budgetary impact. I embraced that and worked toward that.”

As for the criminal case, Pizzi said, “I’m very proud of the fact that when I was falsely accused by the overwhelming powers of the Justice Department and federal government that I fought back and proved my innocence and was acquitted.”

Thinking about his legacy as town mayor, Pizzi said, “I just hope the focus will be on the stuff I accomplished for the [town], such as building [Town] Hall, the youth center, opening [Northwest] 87th Avenue and working over two decades to better people’s lives.”

Pizzi has his own law firm and represents municipal employees.