For Sale: Keys to the City

In Deerfield, when you're in, you're really in. And the mayor is really in.

The mayor wasn't the only city official to profit from Arbor Green. So did his friend, Deetjen, if indirectly. The Arbor Green partnership gave exclusive rights to sell the condos to Deer Creek Real Estate, which employs Deetjen's wife, Lynn. The sales commissions alone were worth an estimated $400,000 or more.

Capellini says he and his Arbor Green partners voted to give the sales rights to Deer Creek Real Estate because it had the best terms, though he claimed not to remember whom he voted for.

Deetjen says Deer Creek Real Estate was chosen simply because it's the leading firm in the area. "I venture to say that my wife sold two units at most," he says. "Lynn Deetjen is the best realtor in Deer Creek. You know how I know that? Because I sleep with her every night. She's the best. Shame on anyone who would question one of the most caring people in all of Deer Creek."

Gonot wants the mayor to choose between his pocketbook and the public.
Gonot wants the mayor to choose between his pocketbook and the public.
Did city manager Deetjen do the mayor's private bidding at city hall?
Did city manager Deetjen do the mayor's private bidding at city hall?

Unbidden, he explains that he has had several children who have gone to top colleges around the country. "You think I paid for all those on my city manager's pay? No, I paid them on two wages, including my wife's," says Deetjen, who makes $150,000 a year at the city.

The city manager said the Arbor Green project represents nothing but a great project for the city. "Arbor Green is a beautiful project with fantastic units," he avers. "It fits beautifully into the community. Everybody loves that."

As for the tight relationship with Capellini, the city manager is unapologetic. "I am proud of having a close relationship with the mayor," he says.

That close relationship is evident in most city dealings, including those that appear to involve more of the mayor's mingling of his public office and private interests. Soon after forming his partnership with Gallo at Arbor Green, the mayor struck up another business association with the architect — and this time, it came at the expense of the residents the mayor is supposed to represent.

Linda Mooney has been living on Crystal Lake in Deerfield Beach for a decade. And she's noticed a peculiar trend: The longer she lives there, the smaller the lake becomes.

The lake, a popular place for boaters as well as turtles and birds, just keeps shrinking.

It's no secret why. The northern side of the lake is an industrial zone where companies have been improperly filling it in for years. The most recent culprit has been the Lanzo Construction Co., which Broward County recently cited for, among other charges, improperly filling the residential lake.

But Mooney blames one man for Lanzo's actions: Mayor Al Capellini.

"After all I've done for the mayor, he betrayed us," says Mooney, a longtime city activist who serves on the city's Planning and Zoning Board. "I supported him in all of his elections, and I've had him out here to meet residents many times. He said he would always protect the people and protect the lake. And then he turned around and helped to destroy it. I'm very sad and disappointed."

To understand Mooney's outrage, you must go back to 2001, when Lanzo proposed to build a public walkway and three warehouses on the property it owns on the north side of the lake. The company hired architect Gallo to oversee the project. And Gallo, following the pattern begun with Arbor Green, promptly hired the mayor to help get the City of Deerfield Beach to move on necessary approvals and obtain county permits to fill part of the lake.

Capellini accepted the job and, on March 25, 2002, sent a letter to his city's planning director, Jerry Ferguson. In the letter, Capellini informed Ferguson that his company, Atlantis, was working for Lanzo.

"[A] letter of approval agreeing to the plat [mapping] change is required from the City of Deerfield Beach," the mayor wrote on his company's letterhead. "Please place this item on the agenda for the next available meeting."

Was the mayor ordering the city official to help his client?

"I didn't take it as a directive but as a request from a businessperson," Ferguson offers.

Does he get similar letters from private interests?

"We get requests, but rarely do they specify the process that we should follow. That's not common, but I guess the mayor... well, I wouldn't want to speculate. But I've never felt strong-armed by the mayor to do anything."

Ferguson replied to Capellini that the city would first have to abandon its rights, or "flow easement," on the half-acre of lake. It was a process that would take 60 days and require approval from the City Commission.

Interestingly, the walkway was to be paid for by the city. The plan was for Deerfield to raise $500,000 in grant money and give it to Lanzo to build the project. In other words, Capellini was essentially paving the way for Lanzo — and Gallo, the designer — to receive a chunk of public money.

While Lanzo went through the permitting process, the mayor's intertwining business interests with Gallo deepened. On October 20, 2003, he and Gallo with two other partners formed a real estate firm called Pine Ridge Real Estate Enterprises.

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