Cooper, a 57-year-old Democrat who has been mayor of the city 20 miles north of Miami since 2005, is charged with several corruption charges: money laundering, official misconduct and exceeding the limit on campaign finance contributions — all felonies that carry a maximum five-year prison sentence each. She’s also accused of soliciting contributions in a government building — that same now-vacant city hall office.
Cooper did not address a phalanx of reporters as she left jail Thursday, but she defended herself in a statement: “I have dedicated my time and energy to focus on performing all of my duties with utmost integrity. . . . I can assure you that I will vigorously fight these allegations in court.”
Her attorney, Larry Davis, told reporters Cooper “never accepted any money, anything that went into her pocket. She never accepted a campaign contribution for any quid pro quo, for any developer, anybody in her 20 years of public life.”
He told Fox News that Cooper plans to plead not guilty.
On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) suspended Cooper, prohibiting her from “performing any official act, duty, or function of public office.”
Cooper’s fortunes have tumbled along with those of Alan Koslow, who the Sun-Sentinel called “one of the most effective and best-known attorneys and lobbyists in the state.”
Last August, Koslow pleaded guilty to hiding the source of $220,000 in illegal gambling and drug dealing. His clients in the case, prosecutors said, were “quasi-mafia figures.”
But years before that plea, investigators had used Koslow in a sting operation: one that netted Cooper.
In 2012, Koslow was contacted by people who he thought were wealthy land developers from California who were “seeking political favor” for projects in Hallandale Beach, according to court documents posted by Miami ABC-affiliate WPLG.
But the “developers” were really undercover FBI agents. And over the next few months, they recorded their interactions with Koslow and the politician he said they could influence with a few well-placed dollars: Cooper.
In June 2012, he told the “developers” that he “had the vote of the Mayor in the City of Hallandale and if they supported the Mayor’s ’causes’ she would favorably view their projects,” according to the court documents.
Three days later Koslow allegedly arranged a meeting with the mayor in her office. The “developers” said they were looking for a suitable site in the city.
The mayor offered up more than her own support, according to the documents. She said she and two other commissioners were a “team of three” that could “encourage a favorable result for the development project.”
Former city commissioner Bill Julian received two $500 checks for his campaign, but there was no indication he knew they were illegal, according to the arrest affidavit, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The role of another commissioner, Anthony Sanders, was unclear. He stepped down last year after a report by the Broward County inspector general found that he had used his position to funnel $1 million to a nonprofit group that made monthly payments to a church he founded and paid his immediate family.
Sanders and Julian could not be reached by The Washington Post for comment.
Before arrangements could be made, Koslow and Cooper and the “developers” discussed payment, the court documents said.
At one point, Koslow showed Cooper a number, a proposed campaign contribution, and asked if it was good.
“No. Add a zero,” she replied, according to the court documents.
Koslow arranged to launder the money in a way that would skirt laws that put caps on campaign contributions, according to court documents. He’d funnel the bulk to Cooper, the documents say, and donate some to Sanders and Julian.
The developers came to his house with $8,000 in cash — a Dunkin’ Donuts bag stuffed with $100 bills.
A short time later, Koslow handed 10 checks, $500 apiece, to Cooper at a fashion show put on by the Hallandale Chamber of Commerce. Cooper’s campaign recorded that the money was donated by several “teachers” and one retired person, all with Russian last names.
He even detailed a final meeting, on Oct. 3, after the donations.
Koslow, Cooper and the “developers” met at the Flash Back Diner, according to court documents. “You guys have been great,” she allegedly told them.
More than five years passed between those alleged interactions and statements and Cooper’s arrest. That’s because after the 2012 election, according to the Tampa Bay Times, investigators focused their efforts on Koslow, who was accused of laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal gambling and drug proceeds, and had a deep web of political connections.
Agents eventually revealed who they were to Koslow, but didn’t arrest him. Instead, they used him to investigate other lobbyists and politicians, the Times reported.
On Nov. 9, he provided a sworn testimony about the alleged campaign finance scheme with Cooper, and investigators reignited the case.
But Davis, Cooper’s attorney, criticized the Broward State’s Attorney’s Office reliance on “a disgraced and disbarred convicted felon,” the Times reported.