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For Sale: Keys to the City

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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.

Capellini and Gallo have not only maintained their business relationship; they've intensified it. Last August, Capellini and Gallo partnered up in a real estate venture in Costa Rica, a country where the mayor has traveled extensively. It's not known if the two men have traveled to the Central American country together; the mayor declined to answer questions about his land deals.

When last contacted by New Times on his cell phone, the mayor said he was out of the country. When asked if he was in Costa Rica, he answered in the negative. But he wouldn't say where he was (city sources say it was Brazil).

Instead he maintained his veil of secrecy. Just the way the mayor seems to like it.

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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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