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South Florida mayor to remain free on bond in corruption case

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A federal judge denied prosecutors’ efforts to jail a south Florida mayor for violating the terms of his bond after he was arrested last year for allegedly accepting thousands of dollars in bribe money from undercover FBI agents.

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has been free on $100,000 bail since last August and is due to go on trial in July.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke warned Pizzi she would not be so generous if he continued to flout the terms of his bond.

"If you keep this up, you are going to end up in jail," she said.

Pizzi is one of a handful of Miami-area mayors indicted in the past year on corruption charges.

Federal prosecutors argued that a February mass email by Pizzi alleging another local politician was under a corruption investigation made its way to a handful of potential federal witnesses on a court-ordered “no contact” list.

Court documents also allege he lied to probation officials about ensuring the names were removed from distribution lists when asked about the emails.

"Mr. Pizzi was actively involved in the drafting and distribution of this email under a fictitious name," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jed Dwyer. "He was interviewed by a probation officer and lied."

Pizzi, who is charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, attempted extortion and bribery, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and faces a maximum of 50 years in prison if convicted.

Pizzi apologized to the judge, saying he had a hard time taming his desire to express opinions. "I've had a life as one of the state of Florida's leading gadflies," he said. "I've gone from being a mayor to living a life of a hermit," he added.

Ed Shohat, Pizzi's attorney, said his client had been a great servant of the community and was only seeking to engage in legitimate political action.

"He has been the conscience and whistleblower of this county," he said.

(Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)

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