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For Sale: Keys to the City

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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.

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.

"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.

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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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