Hallandale Beach mayor released on bond, faces 3 felony charges

HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper surrendered to authorities on multiple charges, including money laundering, Thursday morning, and was later released from jail after paying her bond.

According to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, Cooper turned herself in just before 10:30 a.m. Prosecutors said she has been charged with money laundering, official misconduct, and exceeding limits on contributions for campaign financing — all of which are third-degree felonies. Cooper also faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge of soliciting contributions to a campaign in a government building.

Each felony charge is punishable by a prison sentence not exceeding five years, while the misdemeanor charge carries up to one year in prison.

Cooper released a statement that read in part, “This note is to inform you that the Broward County State Attorney’s Office has decided to charge me with allegations of campaign finance violations. I can assure you that I will vigorously fight these allegations in court.”

Meanwhile, city officials released a statement that read in part, “The City will fully cooperate with any investigation and will extend full cooperation with any law enforcement agencies. Residents should know that we will continue city business as usual and operate under the processes defined by the city charter.”

Cooper’s bond was set at $12,000. She paid her bond and was released from the Broward County Jail, Thursday night, after spending seven hours there.

“We have no further comment at this point, and we’ll see you guys in court,” said Cooper’s attorney, Larry Davis, as they walked out of the jail.

Davis said he is certain his client will be found innocent of any wrongdoing. When asked if Cooper maintains her innocence, Davis replied, “Absolutely, and we look forward to our day in court and complete vindication of Mayor Cooper.”

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow said she was surprised by the arrest. “I don’t want to give the impression that anybody in City Hall is happy about this,” she said. “We’re not happy. We believe that it brings a black cloud or a black eye to Hallandale Beach.”

The State Attorney’s Office said Cooper’s arrest follows an FBI undercover sting operation that began back in 2012. FBI agents posing as land developers met with Cooper. Investigators said she promised them favors in exchange for money and votes.

Officials said Cooper’s case is being handled by members of the Special Prosecutions and Public Corruption Unit.

Cooper spoke to 7News in June of 2017. When asked if she knew anything about a public corruption investigation, she replied, “Not until you had mentioned it to me, no.”

Thursday afternoon, London released a statement that read, “Today is a day when Hallandale Beach residents, elected officials and staff must come together. I am committed to working with all of our city’s stakeholders to move Hallandale Beach in a positive direction.”

There have been numerous other scandals involving Hallandale Beach city officials, as well.

“This is not what we continue to want to have happen for Hallandale Beach,” said Lazarow. “This is disappointing once again.”

Former Hallandale Beach Commissioner Bill Julian was accused of accepting a van for a food bank in exchange for a favorable vote. He was later cleared of the accusations.

In a voicemail, Julian’s voice can reportedly be heard saying, “What I did was I voted against an extra $25,000. We are already gonna get $25,000. I didn’t want to [inaudible] for more because what they don’t know is they’re buying the food bank a new van, but I couldn’t tell everybody.”

Cooper and other commissioners had also been known to argue at meetings.

Some commissioners, including Vice Mayor Keith London, also claimed that someone had put tracking devices on their personal cars.

London also had a confrontation with a worker at a job site, during which he was caught on video saying, “How many times did you go to prison? What was it? Did you like it? Did you suck…?”

Next, Cooper will have an arraignment, and if she is suspended by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, London would become acting mayor.

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