Broward County

A private eye’s ex-girlfriend accused the mayor of illegal spying in a closed case

It’s a spy-drama love story with a late plot twist straight out of Hollywood. Well, Hallandale Beach, actually.

It begins in the lead-up to the 2016 local elections. Victor Elbeze, a French national and failed perfume entrepreneur, placed illegal tracking devices on the cars of two Hallandale Beach commissioners and one candidate for a commission seat. At the time he was working as a private investigator for a mystery client.

Elbeze’s fingerprint was found on a tracker, and after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor — illegal installation of tracking devices — Elbeze paid a $293 fine and Florida Department Law Enforcement closed the case last year.

What didn’t come out was who hired Elbeze to track the politicians or why, though in his deposition Elbeze stated that his Russian boss ordered the surveillance on behalf of a prominent local developer with high-stakes real estate projects in the oceanfront city.

That became the prominent narrative until Oct. 3 of this year when Carmen Gimenez took the podium for public comment during a regular Hallandale Beach commission meeting. She had never spoken there before, and she struggled to find the microphone switch. She made a self-deprecating joke, and introduced herself and her Doral-based organization that helps Venezuelan immigrants come to the United States.

Then came the plot twist. Gimenez looked straight at Mayor Keith London and said: “By the way Mayor, this is the first time I see you in person.” The only other time she had seen him, Gimenez said, was on her “ex-boyfriend Victor Elbeze’s monitor when he told me [Gimenez] that you [London] hired him to track your colleagues.”

London cut her off to reply: “No no no no, I’m sorry. I’ll correct that afterward.” Later in the meeting, he denied it all, pointing to Elbeze’s testimony about the developer as proof.

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The Hallandale Beach City Commission before the city’s mayor, Joy Cooper, was arrested on Jan. 25, 2018. From left: Keith London, who is now acting mayor, Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub, Cooper and Commissioner Michele Lazarow. City of Hallandale Beach

Rumors have always outnumbered the facts in this story, but this much doesn’t seem to be in dispute: In August of 2016, London was helping his friend and fellow commissioner Michele Lazarow with her re-election campaign. Lazarow brought in Anabelle Lima-Taub, a friend from her animal rights activism days, to run for another open seat.

The three allies were hoping to end up with a voting majority in the city government run by Mayor Joy Cooper. Cooper and London have been rivals since he lost a mayoral race to her in 2012. Cooper was removed from her post in January after being charged with official misconduct and other counts for what prosecutors described as soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for votes. She is awaiting trial.

As they hit the campaign trail in 2016, Lima-Taub started feeling like she was being followed. Then, on Sept. 28, 2016, London said he noticed an SUV following him too.

“I changed lanes a few times and then pulled into the parking lot to see if it would continue to follow me,” he told the Miami Herald. In a Publix parking lot, London filmed a man getting out of the SUV and approaching his car, aggressively asking why London was recording him. The man turned out to be Elbeze.

A few weeks later, London found a tracking device secured to the underside of the bumper of his car. He said he checked for it on the advice of his attorney David Di Pietro, a former board member of Broward Health who earlier that year claimed he too found a tracking device on his own vehicle, though that one mysteriously disappeared. London then quickly found tracking devices on vehicles belonging to Lazarow and Lima-Taub, and submitted the three devices to FDLE on Oct. 21, 2016, along with a sworn statement. Investigators found Elbeze’s fingerprint on one of the devices.

Those are the facts. Who paid for the surveillance remains the subject of wild rumor and contradictory allegations, made over years by those familiar with the case.

Elbeze told FDLE investigators at the time of the illegal surveillance he worked for a company called General Investigation Services, owned by Russian national Steve Cohen, previously known as Stanislav Doudnik before he changed his name. Elbeze said Cohen asked him to purchase and place the tracking devices on the commissioners’ cars. He said it was for a job, commissioned by the developer of the Diplomat Golf & Tennis Club, Louis Birdman.

Elbeze said his job was to follow Lazarow and London in order to find evidence of Sunshine Law violations. “The client also wanted to prove that London and Lazarow had an affair,” Elbeze told investigators. He proved neither. Elbeze’s video surveillance shows the two snuggling up in a car, but nothing more, and as the investigator who interviewed him pointed out, video from outside a car with no audio could never prove a Sunshine violation.

Birdman denied the allegations and said he doesn’t know Cohen or Elbeze. Cohen refused to comment other than to say Elbeze did work for him in 2016 but that Cohen never ordered the illegal tracking.

“Victor is a very sneaky person. He’s always doing something behind your back. I have some situations in other cases where I find out he was lying to me,” Cohen said. An example: “He told everyone he was in the French Legion.”

Gimenez said Elbeze told her that too after the two met on the dating site Plenty of Fish in early 2016. She said Elbeze was always pumping himself up, giving false credentials. But he seemed very impressive, she said, with James Bond-like gadgets in his car. He seemed a little dangerous too, and carried guns on his waist and ankle. He frequently arrived to their dates sporting bruises and scratches that he attributed to the latest job.

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Carmen Gimenez and Victor Elbeze posing together in 2016. Courtesy Carmen Gimenez

Still, when they would go out at night, “he was a perfect gentleman,” Gimenez remembered. She fell in love with him, and he with her, according to text messages the two exchanged in June 2016.

One night that summer, Gimenez said the couple was driving over the bridge on Hallandale Beach Boulevard when Elbeze said, “Let’s stop here. Let’s see one thing.” According to Gimenez, Elbeze pulled out his phone and opened what looked like a little map with location markers all over it. He pointed to a group of dots located at GGS Waterfront Bar & Grill in Hollywood, and Gimenez remembers him saying, “Here is London. Here is another guy. Here is another guy.” She said he mentioned other commissioners and the mayor, Cooper, though not by name.

“This guy hired me to track these people,” Gimenez remembers Elbeze saying as he pointed to London on the screen. Gimenez said London had hired Elbeze to dig up dirt on Cooper. The reason was simple, he told her. London wanted to be mayor himself.

“She’s a bad lady, the mayor. She is going to jail,” Gimenez recalled Elbeze saying of Cooper. Then she said Elbeze pointed again to London and said, “But he’s worse, London.”

Gimenez said Elbeze also showed her how he tracked other people like his ex-wife and two sons on his phone. (In his deposition, Elbeze admitted to placing a tracker on another vehicle that was unrelated to the Hallandale commission case.)

Gimenez said she broke up with Elbeze in late 2016 after finding out that he was living with another woman with whom he had an almost decade-long romantic relationship. Gimenez was the mistress, she learned, and she was devastated.

She said she lost track of Elbeze, until 2018 when she saw a news clip about the illegal tracking devices. She contacted FDLE and gave a statement in April 2018 about what she remembered from the day Elbeze showed her his phone. (FDLE has no other open or closed cases related to Keith London, Elbeze or Cohen.)

That was all she did until Gimenez saw a Miami Herald article from August about a falling out between London and Lima-Taub. The article quoted London accusing Lima-Taub of profiting from anal bleaching. Disgusted by the mayor’s behavior, Gimenez said she privately told Lima-Taub her story about Elbeze when the two met to discuss issues related to condo fraud.

“I told her I don’t like Mr. London, because per the words of Victor Elbeze, he was a bad boy,” Gimenez said. “I told her what I told to the police.”

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Anabelle Lima-Taub, Hallandale Beach commissioner.

According to both women, it was the only time they ever met. Then, Gimenez decided she would make the information public.

“First of all, I live in Hallandale Beach. I don’t want him to be the mayor after knowing this information,” Gimenez said of her motivations for speaking up at the October meeting. “I don’t know the reason why Victor told me he is worse [than Cooper]. But if she went to jail because she was in a bad situation, if he is worse, what could he have done?”

Elbeze stood by his deposition, and though he admitted to dating Gimenez, said she is “crazy” and London had nothing to do with the tracking devices.

Gimenez “creates problem everywhere. She wants to go into politics,” Elbeze said. “This is all just politics.”

London sees the allegations as part of an effort by political opponents to weaken his November re-election bid. London said he has never ordered trackers put on anyone’s cars. He said he doesn’t know Elbeze or Cohen. (Cohen also said he doesn’t know London, and said London was not the one who ordered the trackers placed.) London refused to speculate on why Gimenez would be “fabricating stories regarding her ex-boyfriend.”

“Mr. Birdman put the trackers on,” London said, pointing to Elbeze’s deposition by way of official rebuttal at the October meeting. He denied Gimenez’s claims, and wrapped up his public comments by saying, “maybe that’s the reason why it’s ex-boyfriend.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the charges against former Hallandale mayor Joy Cooper.
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