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Prosecutors: the mayor of Hallandale accepted illegal Russian checks

Joy Cooper knew the value of her political power.

On a summer day in 2012, the mayor of Hallandale Beach met at his City Hall office with two men she thought were wealthy California landowners and also close acquaintance, lawyer and lobbyist South Florida Alan Koslow.

Landlords – FBI agents working undercover – would help fund Cooper's reelection career. In return, he would push his construction project through the city commission.

Koslow showed the mayor a proposed donation and asked if it was a "good number".

"No," Cooper said. "Add a zero".

"Three zeros, is that okay?" Koslow replied. "Yes," he said.

Cooper went on to win re-election in November 2012, after requesting and receiving thousands of dollars that state prosecutors now say were illegal contributions to the campaign. Cooper, 57, who served as mayor since 2005, was suspended by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday after being charged with campaign financing infractions, official misconduct and money laundering.

Cooper was released with a $ 12,000 bonus on Thursday while awaiting trial. His defense attorney said the state's case, delivered by the FBI to Broward prosecutors last year, was flawed because it was ultimately based on Koslow's cooperation. He is now a fallen lawyer who pleaded guilty to a federal money laundering charge in 2016 and helped investigators file a lawsuit against Cooper.

Cooper's lawyer, Larry Davis, said he was "extremely disappointed" that the Broward Prosecutor's Office over Koslow, whom he described as "a convicted felon and expelled from the profession"

In a statement, Cooper promised "Energetically combat these accusations in court."

One day after his high-profile arrest, details of Cooper's alleged corruption arose in an affidavit of arrest filed by state prosecutors in the Circuit Court of Broward County. Many of his words and actions were documented with secret audio and video recordings.

The document describes a chapter of the FBI's political corruption investigation in 2012 in South Florida, and how undercover agents posing as developers hired Koslow as a lawyer to head Cooper. It also reveals a seemingly unlikely story of how $ 8,000 dumped in a Dunkin bag & Donuts became campaign checks written by several Russian donors.

The story began in May 2012 when undercover agents created a fictitious real estate company and hired Koslow to represent them and contact Cooper to find a development site in Hallandale Beach. Koslow, who worked for the prominent law firm Browcker Becker & Poliakoff, did not know that his new clients were FBI agents.

In July, Koslow introduced agents to Cooper in the mayor's office at City Hall. They discussed a development project and their next re-election campaign, as Cooper boasted he could secure two more votes in the five-member city commission.

But, according to the affidavit, Cooper wanted a major campaign donation for his support. a figure with three zeros.

Later that month, the mayor met with Koslow and agreed to a $ 10,000 contribution from the developers in two installment payments.

In August, developers, Koslow and Cooper met at their Hallandale Beach home to discuss the arrangement. Then, Koslow met only with developers to receive the first payment.

The undercover agents posing as developers gave Koslow, still without knowing his true identities, a Dunkin bag of $ 100 bills for a total of $ 8,000. They agreed that Koslow would "channel these funds" to Cooper and two of his allies in the city commission, according to the affidavit.

Koslow, aware of the $ 500 limit on local campaign contributions, told agents he would use his funds and connections with two Russian organizations to have them write checks to the Cooper campaign.

In September, the mayor met with Koslow at a fashion show organized by the Hallandale Beach Chamber of Commerce. There, she collected 20 campaign checks for a total of $ 5,000.

"That's fantastic," Cooper told Koslow, acknowledging that the donations came from a group of Russians living in the United States.

In the treasury report of his campaign, Cooper listed donors as "teachers" and a "retiree."

One month after his victory in 2012, Cooper met with the undercover agents and Koslow, according to the affidavit.

"You guys have been great," Cooper said at the Flashback Diner in Hallandale Beach, not knowing that the developers were FBI agents. He noted, however, that one of the donor's checks bounced.

According to the affidavit, two of the check donations, for a total of $ 1,000, were made for the campaign of the then commissioner William Julian. There is no evidence that Julian knew the source of the money.

At the end of the investigation, in October 2012, Cooper was not yet aware that the FBI had targeted her. And it took her more than five years to arrest her.

The reason for the long delay: after the November elections, undercover agents began targeting Koslow, who agreed to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal gambling and drug profits. Koslow collaborated with a woman from South Florida in writing checks to agents in exchange for cash. The agents gave Koslow and the woman a small portion of the dirty money.

After a series of transactions, the agents revealed their identities to Koslow in August 2013, but they did not arrest him. The veteran Broward lawyer began working undercover to help FBI agents in their investigation of other politicians and lobbyists.

However, Koslow eventually cut his plea agreement in August 2016. He was sentenced to one year in prison for the money against the conspiracy against corruption. The following year, Koslow, 63, gave a critical statement in the investigation into Cooper's alleged misconduct, according to the affidavit. He witnessed "his participation" in the alleged campaign financing plan.

In a statement to his constituents, Cooper vowed to "vigorously combat these accusations in court."

With Cooper's suspension from the mayor's office pending the outcome of his criminal case, Deputy Mayor Keith London will serve as acting mayor.

Ironically, after Cooper won London for the post of mayor in 2012, he sang to the Sun Sentinel: "Good always prevails, did not your mom tell you that?"

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