For Sale: Keys to the City

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

Gallo's financial relationship with the city dates back to June 2000, when the commission voted to hire him as a city designer. The contract was signed by City Planning Director Ferguson on March 19, 2001 — about the time the mayor became a partner in the Arbor Green project.

Capellini has filed numerous conflict-of-interest disclosures during the past five years that involve Gallo projects. But he's also had several lapses. On November 18, 2003, Capellini voted to approve Gallo's design plan for the Hillsboro corridor for the city. He failed to mention that Gallo was his business partner.

Gallo (left) flies under the radar in his business dealings with Capellini in Deerfield Beach.
Deerfield Beach
Gallo (left) flies under the radar in his business dealings with Capellini in Deerfield Beach.

"That had nothing to do with my firm," Capellini says.

But Gallo's status as hired gun for the city pales in comparison to the kind of money he was expected to make for building public parking garages. In 2002, Capellini was a driving force behind a plan to build a three-story, $11.5 million parking structure on AIA at the beach. On the dais, while wearing his mayor's hat, he urged the building of the garage and was even quoted extensively in the Sentinel about it.

Many residents, however, believed that the garage was not only too large for the quaint beach area but also unnecessary, since two private companies had plans to build parking lots at the time as well. The mayor rebutted those concerns in the newspaper. As for the size, Capellini argued that if the city built it, the people would fill it. "People want to come to Florida," the Sentinel quoted Capellini as saying during a September 17, 2002, meeting. "They want to come to Deerfield Beach."

Ultimately, the dreams of Capellini and Gallo to build the beach parking garage were crushed by the people. In November 2002, voters passed a ballot measure limiting buildings to two stories on the beach, scuttling the three-story project.

But it didn't take long for Gallo and the city to come up with another public parking garage plan. This time, it would be a $9.5 million, six-story garage near Cove Shopping Center on the Intracoastal. The city owns land in the area but intended to build the garage on land owned by Landrys Seafood Co., which operates a restaurant on the property called Charley's Crab.

Once again, Gallo was tapped by the city to design it. And, once again, Capellini apparently broke state conflict disclosure laws in the process. On February 17, 2004, the commission voted to transfer Gallo's right to design the defunct beach parking lot project to the new Cove plan. During the Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, Capellini abstained from the vote.

Directly after the little-attended CRA meeting, however, a regular commission meeting convened. Before the commission vote to approve Gallo as Cove designer, Capellini pulled a familiar stunt. According to city records, "Mayor Capellini did not vote... because he left the room temporarily."

It was another bathroom break, according to the mayor. But any chance that Capellini could credibly maintain that he kept clear of the Cove deal flew away on April 29, 2004. Literally.

On that day, Capellini, Gallo, Deetjen, and several other city officials flew to Houston at city expense to negotiate a deal with Landrys Seafood Co.

"The rest of the commission did not know about that trip until after the fact," says Commissioner Gonot, a onetime Capellini ally. "We got absolutely no report on it. They went to Houston, and nobody even had the courtesy to give us a briefing on what happened."

Deerfield's economic development director, Carlos Baia, who was among the officials who flew to Houston, says the city contingent went to show Landrys officials they were "serious" about building the Cove parking garage. In a meeting there, Capellini tried to persuade Landrys to help get the parking garage built.

"He was being a spokesman for the city and CRA in terms of highlighting the benefits for our community in bettering the area," Baia said.

The mayor says he went on the trip because he believed in the project, not because it would benefit his partner. But questions have surfaced as to whether Capellini himself was slated to profit as well. City Planning Director Ferguson says that he attended planning meetings with Gallo concerning the Cove project and that Capellini or a representative of his company, Atlantis, was always present.

Why? It was Ferguson's understanding that Atlantis was acting as a preliminary engineering firm for the project.

Capellini denies that his firm was ever tapped as engineer for the Cove parking project or attended planning meetings. "That's a city project, and I can't have anything to do with that as an engineer," he says.

While Arbor Green was a success, the Lanzo and Cove projects remain in limbo. Both are opposed by the new commission, which is in near open revolt against Capellini.

But if it is determined that Capellini and Gallo struck a corrupt deal or that the mayor sold out his office, then it doesn't matter in the eyes of the law whether those projects came to fruition. Florida's felony unlawful compensation law states that an elected official who influences his own governmental body for private gain need only attempt the misdeed, not accomplish it. It also need not involve a vote.

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