Pompano Beach Commissioner Susan Foster didn't know she was meeting with a former cocaine kingpin.
She thought Sam Frontera, who was creating a nightclub near Foster's Cresthaven neighborhood, was just another businessman. She had no idea he'd once flooded several North American cities with illicit drugs.
But the commissioner did know the man who was with Frontera. It was Al Capellini, mayor of Deerfield Beach.
Foster says she met the pair back in 2004 to talk about Club Cinema on Federal Highway, which the Detroit-born Frontera had been building for nearly five years. The property had accumulated code violations and liens from the City of Pompano Beach and was an eyesore to the 9,000 residents in Cresthaven.
"I just said, 'Look, guys, this is getting ridiculous it's bad for the neighborhood,'" she recalls telling Frontera and Capellini, the general contractor for Frontera.
Then she asked the club owner what the place was going to be when it got finished.
"It's going to be a dinner theater," she remembers Frontera saying. "We're going to have shows."
"What kind of shows?"
"You know, shows," he reiterated.
"No, I don't know," Foster recalls saying. "Like what, ladies mud wrestling?"
And she remembers Frontera's reply: "What, you gonna apply?"
Foster says she was amazed at Frontera's belligerent attitude.
"I looked at Capellini, and I thought he was going to drop his teeth, this guy was acting so badly," she says. "Capellini said, 'Susan, this is going to be a first-class club. '"
So much for the notion that the mayor has been strictly a hired hand for Frontera who is forbidden under Florida law from controlling a liquor license and whose ownership of the nightclub is hidden in straw companies.
Capellini served as spokesman for Frontera with not only Foster but other city officials, including building department chief Jerry Sanzone, and he sold him his influential name in return for helping to make the former drug dealer's dream of getting back into the nightclub business a reality (See "Mayor Al's Shady Pal," July 7).
Foster recounts a conversation she had with Pompano Beach City Manager Bill Hargett about Club Cinema. She says she had heard rumors for years that the place was tied to criminals. Foster says the manager acknowledged the rumors before adding, "But now that Capellini is on the job, things will get better."
While the extent of the mayor's work with Frontera comes more into focus, sources who are close to Club Cinema say Capellini was a regular at the club, which is almost always closed for repairs.
The true source of the money for the club: Frontera's old partner in Chicago, Lou Wolf, a twice-convicted octogenarian felon and legendary slumlord who owned the buildings where the drug dealer laundered his drug cash in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Capellini didn't respond to New Times' messages for comment, and Frontera has made it clear through an attorney that he isn't interested in explaining anything to the newspaper.
The mayor's colleagues on the City Commission, however, seem to be in agreement: Recent revelations have gutted the mayor politically.
"He's a lame duck right now," Commissioner Martin Popelsky says. "He's been very docile, so to speak. He's not as outspoken as he was prior to the articles."
The question floating in the Deerfield air: Will Mayor Capellini make it to the next election in 2009, or will he resign?
"I just can't see him resigning," Popelsky says.
Neither can Commissioner Steve Gonot, who has had a long-running feud with Capellini.
"I think he has a recessive shame gene," the commissioner says, "so I don't think he feels it like other people might."
That leaves the matter in the hands of law enforcement. Last month, the Broward State Attorney's Office contacted numerous city officials apparently as part of a criminal investigation into the mayor's actions, but prosecutors seem to have done little work on the case. Considering State Attorney Michael Satz's abysmal record on public corruption, the inaction hasn't come as a surprise to officials.
As for Club Cinema, Foster and other Cresthaven residents say they believe it's up to the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to investigate whether the establishment is operating legally. "Based on the information in the article, the department will look into the situation and take whatever action in appropriate," division spokeswoman Kristen Ploska says.
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Dennis Myers says he's just waiting. He's president of the Cresthaven Neighborhood Watch and remembers when the building that holds Club Cinema was the Forum, a controversial swinger's club. He says he traced ownership to Lou Wolf in Chicago but didn't know about Frontera's past as a major U.S. cocaine dealer.
"I saw that it was tied to a slumlord in Chicago, and then I knew it was unsavory," says Myers, whose day job is spokesman for Broward County government. "But right now, I don't have a huge problem with it because it's almost always closed. The real test will be the clientele."
Foster says she doesn't expect anything good to come from Club Cinema but hopes for the best.
"Apparently, the permits are good," she says. "It's up to law enforcement if anything is going to be done at all."