HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper was arrested Thursday on three felony charges.
The Broward County state attorney's office said Cooper was arrested after an undercover FBI investigation that began in May 2012. She surrendered and was booked into jail.
Cooper is charged with money laundering, official misconduct and exceeding limits on campaign contributions, all of which are third-degree felonies. She is also charged with a first-degree misdemeanor of soliciting contributions in a government building.
"We're all very surprised at City Hall," Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow said. "It's a sad day for the city."
According to the state attorney's office, FBI agents posing as wealthy land developers met with Cooper, former attorney Alan Koslow and other undercover agents posing as business owners over the course of several months to discuss a business project in the city.
Investigators said Cooper solicited campaign contributions for herself and others that exceeded the legal limit and falsely reported the contributions in campaign reports. Investigators said Cooper also solicited contributions in the amount of $1,500 each for then-Commissioners Bill Julian and Anthony Sanders.
Authorities said all of the meetings were secretly recorded.
Julian lost his bid for re-election after he was caught an audio recording, obtained by Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman, in which he agreed to accept secret favors in exchange for his vote on the Diplomat Golf & Tennis Club project.
Sanders resigned last year after he was alleged to have used his position to approve nearly $1 million in funding to a nonprofit that made monthly payments to a church that he founded.
Cooper is the city's first elected mayor. She has served on the City Commission since 1999.
"Mayor Cooper has devoted herself to public service and the city of Hallandale Beach for the past two decades," attorney Larry Davis said in an email to Local 10. "We're extremely disappointed that the Broward County state attorney's office is relying upon Alan Koslow, a disgraced and disbarred convicted felon, as the centerpiece of its case of alleged campaign finance violations."
Koslow was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for money laundering. He refused to say whether he was cooperating with the federal government when he spoke to Norman in June 2016.
"From what I was told, he was working undercover," Davis said. "What's in it for Mr. Koslow? You're going to have to ask him."
Cooper also released a statement in which she vowed to "vigorously fight these allegations in court."
The mayor made headlines in November after she slurred her words and rambled on the dais during a commission meeting. She refused to leave, and her husband began cursing and challenging Vice Mayor Keith London to a fight in the parking lot.
"We look forward to our day in court and Mayor Cooper's vindication," Davis said.