Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper was arrested Thursday on charges that she solicited, then falsely reported campaign contributions during an undercover federal sting operation that took place more than five years ago.
Though no charging documents had been released by Thursday afternoon, a single-page statement released by the Broward State Attorney’s Office said Cooper was charged with “multiple campaign finance violations” stemming from an FBI undercover operation in May of 2012, including three felonies.
Among the charges: Money laundering, official misconduct, exceeding limits on campaign contributions and soliciting contributions in a government building.
Investigators say Cooper, a Democrat, “solicited campaign contributions for herself and others in amounts exceeding the legal limits, and caused those contributions to be falsely reported in campaign reports.” She also solicited contributions of $1,500 each for then-commissioners William Julian and Anthony Saunders, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
Cooper turned herself in to Broward state prosecutors Thursday morning and was booked into Broward County Jail. Her bond was set at $12,000 for the four charges, and she was released Thursday evening, her lawyer said.
It wasn’t immediately clear why she was charged by the state after a federal sting. Her attorney, Larry Davis, said he was unsure why Cooper was targeted in the sting.
“We look forward to our day in court, and Mayor Cooper’s vindication,” Davis said in a statement.
The single-page document did, however, hint at why Cooper was targeted. In it, state prosecutors said undercover agents posing as wealthy land owners had several meetings over several months with Cooper and former attorney Alan Koslow. The meetings were documented through audio and video recording.
Koslow, a once powerful South Florida lobbyist and City of Hollywood attorney, pleaded guilty to federal money laundering conspiracy in 2016. Before his arrest, Koslow had been cooperating with the FBI in an expanded investigation into his relationship with local politicians and lobbyists. Koslow’s former law firm was never implicated in any wrongdoing.
Davis said he was “extremely disappointed” that the Broward State Attorney’s Office relied upon Koslow.
In a statement to her constituents, Cooper promised to “vigorously fight these allegations in court” and said she has “always been committed to the betterment of our community.”
State prosecutors refused comment Thursday afternoon.
Cooper, who last year faced calls to resign, took office in 2005, and was elected to the commission in 1999.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported in November that Cooper appeared to heavily slur her words during a commission meeting and had to be driven home by her husband after the police chief confiscated her car keys.
Her political rivals — Vice Mayor Keith London and Commissioner Michele Lazarow — accused Cooper of being under the influence and sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking him to remove her from office, which he never did. Cooper said she was not intoxicated but sick after contracting “Montezuma’s revenge” on a trip to Mexico.
“I am very fit to serve as mayor,” she said at the time, according to the Sun Sentinel. “I have always been fit to serve as mayor and I will always remain fit.”
Commissioner Anabelle Taub, a first-term commissioner and one of Cooper’s only allies on the dais, said she learned of Cooper’s arrest around noon Thursday, and that she was “shocked and sad and very afraid for the state of our city.”
“It’s a really sad day for Hallandale,” Taub said, adding that taxpayers stand to lose the most in this situation.
The commission is plagued by political infighting and seemingly constant controversy. Missing one member since August, when then-commissioner Anthony Saunders resigned in light of accusations of misconduct by the Inspector General. The IG accused him of using his office to award nearly $1 million to a nonprofit that made regular payments to his church and family.
London, who put out a statement saying he was acting mayor, called for unity in the wake of his politcal rival’s arrest.
“Today is a day when Hallandale Beach residents, elected officials and staff must come together,” he said in a statement. “I am committed to working with all of our city’s stakeholders to move...in a positive direction.”
The City of Hallandale Beach said it will “fully cooperate with any investigation and will extend full cooperation with any law enforcement agencies.”
Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.