Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R.) on Friday suspended Joy Cooper, the Democratic mayor of Hallandale Beach, after state prosecutors charged her with campaign finance violations, official misconduct, and money laundering.
Cooper, 57, was arrested and released from custody on a $12,000 bond on Thursday as she awaits trial in a case that undercover FBI agents built against her focusing on the mayor's 2012 reelection campaign, during which, prosecutors say, she accepted illegal campaign contributions from Russians, the Miami Herald reported.
Starting in May 2012, undercover FBI agents created a fake real estate company and hired south Florida lawyer and lobbyist Alan Koslow, of the prominent law firm Becker & Poliakoff, to represent them and contact Cooper to find a development site in Hallandale Beach.
Koslow introduced the agents to Cooper in her city hall office in July. At the meeting, they discussed a development project and Cooper's upcoming reelection bid. The mayor boasted she could deliver two other votes for the project on the five-member city commission.
In return for her support, Cooper wanted a substantial campaign donation, according to an arrest affidavit filed by state prosecutors in Broward County Circuit Court.
Koslow showed Cooper a proposed donation and asked if it was a "good number."
"No," Cooper said. "Add a zero."
"Three zeros. Is that fine?" Koslow responded.
"Yes," she replied, according to the affidavit.
Later that month, Koslow and Cooper agreed on a $10,000 contribution in exchange for her support for the development project. The contribution would come in two installments.
In August, the undercover FBI agents posing as the developers gave Koslow the first payment—$100 bills totaling $8,000 in a Dunkin' Donuts bag, according to the affidavit. They agreed that Koslow, still unaware of the developers' true identities, "would channel these funds" to Copper and her two allies on the city commission.
Because of the $500 limit on local campaign contributions, of which Koslow was aware, the lawyer told the agents that he would funnel the funds through his connections to two Russian organizations, which would write checks to Cooper's campaign.
The mayor then met Koslow at a fashion show organized by the Hallandale Beach Chamber of Commerce in September to collect 20 checks totaling $5,000.
Copper called the process "fantastic," acknowledging that the donations came from Russians living in the United States.
Cooper listed the donors as "teachers" and one "retiree" in her campaign treasury report.
A month after she won her 2012 reelection bid in November, Cooper met with Koslow and the undercover agents at a diner, where she told the men, "You guys have been great," but did note that one of the checks bounced.
Cooper was unaware of the FBI investigation until she was arrested more than five years later.
Cooper's lawyer, Larry Davis, said he was "extremely disappointed" that the Broward State Attorney's Office relied upon Koslow, who he called "a disgraced and disbarred convicted felon."
Koslow, 63, cut a plea deal in August 2016, and was sentenced to one year in prison on a money-laundering conspiracy conviction.
In a statement, Cooper vowed "to vigorously fight these allegations in court."
Vice Mayor Keith London will serve as acting mayor as Cooper remains on suspension, pending the outcome of her criminal case.