For Sale: Keys to the City

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

Three weeks later, on November 10, 2003, county environmental officials sent a letter to Capellini's engineering firm stating that they needed documentation to show that the city had abandoned the flow easement. The mayor, however, never obtained permission from the commission. Doing so would likely have forced Capellini to publicly reveal his financial connection to the project. Instead of going through the proper channels, Capellini's ally, City Manager Deetjen, wrote a letter to the county stating that "the city understands, also it is fully aware and approves" of vacating the rights to the half-acre of lake.

The commission, of course, had approved of nothing. The question: Who told Deetjen to send that letter? The city manager says he doesn't remember. It's a claim he also relayed to the Sun-Sentinel for a story the newspaper published about Lanzo last month (an article that made only brief mention of Gallo, whose relationship with the mayor has never before been investigated by any newspaper). But the mayor admitted last week to New Times that an engineer who works in his firm named Shane Munson made the request.

Though this seems an example of the mayor's using the power of his office for private financial gain, Capellini says he sees nothing wrong with it. He also denies that he ever hid his financial involvement with Lanzo from the public. But city records seem to suggest otherwise.

Mooney sits near the incredible shrinking lake.
Colby Katz
Mooney sits near the incredible shrinking lake.

Lanzo's site plan for the warehouses came before the commission on March 15, 2005. Before an architect in Gallo's firm began a presentation, Capellini got up and left the room. It was 8:45 p.m., according to the meeting's minutes. The commission voted to table the item until the next meeting.

Capellini, however, didn't return until after that vote, at 9:25 p.m. Contrary to Florida law, he didn't disclose his conflict of interest. When asked last week why he walked out of the room, the mayor says: "I had to go to the bathroom — hey, the important thing is I didn't vote."

Forty-minute bathroom breaks aside, state law dictates that all politicians file disclosure forms and officially abstain from votes where there is a conflict of interest. The Florida Commission on Ethics ruled that elected officials are not exempt from the law if they are temporarily absent during the votes. Meeting minutes, however, reveal that Capellini repeatedly had (as some of his commission colleagues describe it) a "convenient bladder" during a few key votes.

The mayor didn't show up at all for the next meeting, on April 5. Records don't show a reason for his absence, but again it kept him from disclosing the apparent conflict. In a glaring loophole, elected officials who miss entire meetings that include a vote on an issue that presents a conflict of interest are exempted from the abstention requirement.

Two weeks later, Capellini attended a special workshop regarding Crystal Lake, which came about as a result of numerous phone calls from residents, like Mooney, who were angry and concerned about the warehouse project. At the workshop, Capellini explained the Lanzo project to his fellow commissioners — who, along with the rest of Deerfield, still didn't know he was employed by the developer. The mayor mentioned that Lanzo had obtained all the required permits, including the one from the county that he'd apparently helped the company obtain. He touted the project, saying Lanzo had a right to fill the lake.

And he did it all in his role as mayor, not as a Lanzo engineer.

"He never revealed that he was working for Lanzo, and as mayor, he definitely should have," says activist Tom Connick, who is also an attorney in Deerfield.

Capellini's defense: "I didn't vote."

Commissioner Martin Popelsky, who was elected in March 2005, says he learned about the mayor's job during a meeting with Lanzo and Gallo representatives at the company's office in Deerfield last summer. When a Lanzo attorney told him that Capellini had been hired as engineer on the project, the commissioner says it was the greatest shock of his short political career.

"I turned white and rolled up the plans that were sitting on the table," he recalls. "Then I said 'This meeting is over' and walked out the door."

Popelsky has been a devout opponent of the project ever since — and he recently publicly called for the resignations of Capellini and Deetjen. He raised the issue at a commission meeting on March 21 of this year. Capellini argued with Popelsky on the dais, defending Lanzo.

"Popelsky is a feeble old man who has lost his mind," the mayor said of his fellow commissioner. "He doesn't know what he's talking about. The company had a right to fill what it filled. What don't people understand about that?"

The commissioner says he will ask the mayor to justify his accusation of senility at the next commission meeting. "The mayor is entitled to his opinion," Popelsky says. "I don't think what he said is appropriate, obviously."

The brash mayor, however, doesn't shy from words — or deeds — that might be considered inappropriate. At the same time that Gallo was helping Capellini profit in private construction deals, the record indicates that the mayor was trying to help his business partner obtain plum city projects.

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