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For Sale: Keys to the City

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Kesl's attorney, Margaret Cooper, represented him at the meeting. Capellini, taking the role as lead antagonist, told Cooper that the trailer had been approved for one year and that time was up. Cooper complained that the city was partly responsible for holding up the project, because staffers had lost the original development plan and were stonewalling the developer.

Capellini was intransigent. He noted that the development called for 25 units per acre when zoning allows for only 15. Cooper pleaded with the commission for a 30-day extension, saying that the removal of the trailer would destroy Kesl's livelihood. Capellini said the commission would consider such an extension if Kesl posted a $10,000 bond to the city and ceased to do business. Cooper objected, and the commission voted to force Kesl to remove the trailer immediately.

Capellini says he took a deep interest in Kesl's property because the tennis pro was negligent in caring for it and because the density of the initial plan was too high. Deetjen basically conceded that their actions had helped run the tennis pro off the land.

"[Kesl] wanted to have residential development, but he didn't have the background to do it, so we went out and sought development," the city manager says. "It was all done perfectly legally. Kesl wanted higher density, but the city and the residents wanted lower density."

Unknown to Kesl at the time, however, both the mayor and the city manager would ultimately profit from the property after he was driven from the picture. "The mayor and the city manager had an idea what they wanted to do with the property, and ultimately they did it," Kesl says. "I just threw my hands up in the air."

When a German national named Helmut Janssen approached him to buy the property, Kesl was in desperate straits. He sold the nearly six acres of prime residential land to Janssen for a mere $825,000, a bare-bottom price even at the time. "I let it go," says Kesl, who now runs a tennis academy in Pompano Beach.

Janssen's project would be called Arbor Green. He says he went to Bill Gallo for help, because the architect was well-known in Deerfield and had good connections with the city. At the time, Gallo was negotiating a contract with Deerfield to become its "vision architect" in revamping Hillsboro Boulevard, the city's main east-west drag. Capellini and the rest of the commission voted to approve the Gallo contract, which paid him $140 an hour, in June 2000.

Gallo then asked Mayor Capellini to join the Arbor Green partnership, according to Janssen.

"Gallo wanted to bring in Capellini," he explains in his thick accent. "I didn't give up any of my percentage to Capellini... Gallo and the mayor are friends, and that's how it works in life. You have a good friend, and you give them work. It doesn't take away from his duties as mayor."

Although Gallo didn't respond to detailed and repeated phone messages from New Times, Capellini confirms that the architect brought him into the deal.

"I paid to get into the partnership like everybody else," the mayor said. "We had a $7 million bank loan. After we coughed up a lot of money, we paid that bank loan off."

As it happened, the mayor had just gone through a divorce from his wife, Kathy, during which he'd made a windfall. An accounting executive, Kathy alleged in the divorce proceedings that Capellini had an "ungovernable temper" and had choked her during an argument. But the dispute over money was even more heated. Kathy Capellini made $1 million a year; the mayor argued in court that he'd given up his career as an engineer to take care of his two children. He said his sole income was the $1,177 a month he made as mayor, according to newspaper accounts.

Ultimately, the litigants settled, and the mayor was given $1 million in stock from his wife, who took custody of the children.

With the property in Janssen's possession, Janssen and Gallo's first order of business was to put a sales trailer on the site. And Janssen, with the help of Gallo and Capellini, was a little more fortunate than Kesl on that score.

Gallo went before the City Commission on December 19, 2000, to ask for permission for the trailer. Capellini joined in the discussion and assured concerned residents that the city wouldn't rush through the approval process. Then Capellini voted along with the rest of the commission to allow the trailer on the property.

Janssen said the mayor was involved in the partnership "from about the beginning." But Capellini, who also served as engineer for the project and secured various permit approvals from his own city government, says he didn't become financially attached to Arbor Green until after that vote. The partners filed for incorporation with the state on May 14, 2001.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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