Manuel Marono
Manuel Marono (J. Albert Diaz)

A lawsuit filed against former Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño accuses the imprisoned politician of fraud in the sale of a tow truck company and using his office to threaten a business rival.

The fraud and breach of contract lawsuit was filed Jan. 22 by Raul Sosa and Raul Sosa Jr. against Southeast Towing Inc. and others. The case was assigned to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa I. Rodriguez.

The complaint also alleges legal malpractice against attorney Jose “Pepe” Herrera, who was hired to protect Sosa’s interest in the sale. Sosa claims he learned after hiring Herrera that the Miami lawyer had been legal counsel to Maroño. The complaint said Herrera failed to disclose his relationship or obtain a conflict waiver.

“I don’t sue many lawyers in this town, but I don’t have any compunction about suing him,” said Richard J. Diaz, who is representing Sosa. Diaz said his client received a “veiled threat” from a friend of Herrera’s that he better drop the lawsuit or “it will be worse for him.”

Herrera did not return a call or emails for comment by deadline, and no attorney is listed to represent him or Maroño on the case docket.

Marono is serving a 40-month prison sentence for public corruption at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. His criminal defense attorney had no comment on the civil lawsuit.

The FBI arrested Maroño and former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi in an undercover corruption sting last year. Maroño admitted taking bribes from a lobbyist for political favors.

Pizzi has pleaded not guilty.

The civil lawsuit alleges Maroño was the true owner of Southeast Towing Inc. from 2001 to 2008 even though his name did not appear in public records as such. Maroño insisted the 2008 sale of the tow company to Sosa must be in cash for $250,000, the lawsuit states.

“My question is how can a person in his position have that kind of cash on hand. It never made its way to the bank or to his tax statement,” Diaz said.

‘Absolutely Nothing’

The complaint states Maroño persuaded Sosa to keep the mayor’s former partner, co-defendant Peter Hernandez, to run the company.

Sosa questioned Hernandez why the company wasn’t turning a profit despite several municipal contracts. When the company closed after Marono’s arrest, it lost contracts with Metro-Dade Police Department, the Florida Highway Patrol, Homestead, unincorporated Naranja and Everglades National Park, Diaz said.

A worried Sosa paid Herrera $28,000 in cash to prepare the legal documents and add his son, Raul Sosa Jr., as a co-owner to secure his interest after Hernandez persuaded him to change the name of the company to Southeast Wrecker Inc., the lawsuit states.

But “Herrera did absolutely nothing to protect Sosa or Sosa Jr.,” the lawsuit states. “Herrera would constantly come up with one ‘delay excuse’ after another when the Sosas requested status.”

Maroño then approached Sosa about buying back the tow company, saying he had no choice because no transfer documents were executed in the 2008 cash deal and Hernandez was legally considered the owner. He told Sosa there was nothing he could do and the relationship, according to the complaint, worsened when Hernandez pledged his allegiance to Maroño.

“Maroño, abusing his position as mayor of the city of Sweetwater, threatened to use his police chief, Roberto Fulgeira, to pursue a criminal arrest and/or restraining order against Sosa,” the lawsuit states.

Sosa turned to Herrera, paying him $17,000 cash to execute the sale back to Maroño for $220,000—a figure insisted on by Herrera, according to the lawsuit.

“Another reason he sold so cheap was because defendant Herrera failed to have the proper legal documents executed to evidence the earlier sale and because all payments had been made in cash,” the complaint states.

Pressured

Maroño then pressured Sosa to accept an “all-finance” deal where would pay him Maroño the purchase price over 10 years at a low interest rate, the lawsuit states.

Sosa, to protect his interests, directed Herrera to execute UCC-1 forms in order to use the company’s 13 trucks as collateral, but the lawyer failed to file the documents, the lawsuit claims. He later learned the company, now under Maroño and Hernandez’s control, placed its own UCC-1s on the vehicles, “defrauding Sosa of his security interest,” the lawsuit claims.

“It was malicious, outrageous and with total disregard to Sosa’s rights and warrants a claim for punitive damages,” the lawsuit states.

Diaz said his client plans to file a Florida Bar complaint against Herrera.

There is a pending Bar complaint against Herrera stemming from his representation of a Miccosukee member who failed to pay a $3.2 million verdict in a vehicular homicide civil trial.