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Top public official has past business ties, other links to favored Heron Bay developer

The young mother held her daughter in one arm and the mic in the other as she addressed public officials in a room packed with her unhappy neighbors.

“I am angry that they even gave the land to you so you even have the opportunity to ruin the place that I’ve worked so hard to live in,” she said. “And you’re gonna turn it into a mall? … It’s not your land to create some money!”

The crowd of more than 150 people erupted in thunderous applause, as it had for others who spoke against a plan to build a massive commercial development on a defunct golf course in Heron Bay, a neighborhood surrounded by nature preserves on the edge of the Everglades in northwest Broward County.

Presenting the development plan at the public meeting was Rod Colon, district manager of the North Springs Improvement District (NSID). The taxpayer-financed public utility supplies water and sewer services to 16,000 households in Parkland and Coral Springs. Now the public agency, under Colon’s control, has jumped into the development game.

A Heron Bay resident addresses the NSID board.

After purchasing the Heron Bay golf course for $32 million last year, Colon is recommending to the NSID Board of Supervisors that a local construction company called East Coast Builders and Developers Corp. develop the project. East Coast’s proposal entails a huge mall nearly a million square feet in total scope.

The recommendation was made despite the fact that East Coast was not only the most unpopular company among the residents attending the meeting, but was also the lowest bidder for the NSID-owned land. East Coast offered only $21 million for the land, which is a whopping $11 million less than fellow bidder Toll Brothers and $17 million below the bid made by the Falcone Group, a third company vying for the project.

But what Colon didn’t mention at the May 4 meeting is that he’s had business ties of his own with East Coast, a financial relationship that might exceed ethical bounds that involves a private company Colon formed in his Plantation home called Intersol LLC.

As originally reported earlier this month by FLCGA News, Colon’s company, beginning in 2017, was awarded some $16 million in construction contracts from NSID, Colon’s own public agency, over a three-year period. While that may appear to be blatant self-dealing on the public dime, Colon points to a little-known exemption in the Florida Ethics Code that allows public officials at special taxing districts like NSID to secure contracts with their own agencies.

Because Colon isn’t a general contractor and Intersol was largely a company on paper, he had to find another company to do the actual work. For his first big NSID contract, a $4 million stormwater pump station, Colon hired East Coast to complete the job, according to Broward County public records.

He did this despite a state ethics code that forbids public officials like Colon from having “any employment or contractual relationship” with any company that, like East Coast, does business with his own agency.

Colon previously hired East Coast to work for his own makeshift construction company, Intersol LLC.

Colon didn’t respond to a call for comment. East Coast’s owner, Frank Anzalone, acknowledged he worked for Colon but said there’ve been no special favors.

“He hired my company to perform work,” said Anzalone. “He wouldn’t give me the job unless I was cheaper than everyone else.”

Not cheaper in the case of the Heron Bay project, however. And the record shows numerous connections, both professional and personal, between Colon and Anzalone that precipitated the recommendation of East Coast as the builder at Heron Bay.


Ties that bind?

Some known connections between Anzalone and NSID:

– According to county construction records, East Coast was engaged to do work not only on Colon’s personal residence but also a driveway replacement at the home of Colon’s assistant at NSID, Katherine Castro. Anzalone says his company never actually did any work on either property.

– Last summer NSID put Anzalone’s then 19-year-old daughter on the public payroll. Anzalone said his daughter was hired as an assistant to the agency’s engineering department. The younger Anzalone worked the temporary summer job for two and half months with a pay rate of $20 an hour, according to NSID.

– The elected NSID board president, Vincent Moretti, owns a plumbing company that has served as a subcontractor for East Coast in the past. Moretti’s Pro Bowl Plumbing did work for East Coast in Davie, specifically installing large bathrooms for the company at the Bergeron Rodeo Grounds, confirmed Anzalone. A vote for East Coast could raise ethical questions for Moretti, who was absent for the May 4 meeting and didn’t return messages from FLCGA News.

– East Coast, dating back to early 2017, has won millions of dollars in contracts of its own from NSID, including one to build a “records facility” that now hosts the board meetings. In the year following the award, NSID approved “change orders” for the project that ballooned the cost to $7.4 million, more than double the original contract.

– The relationship extends to social events. Photos posted on Facebook show Anzalone in attendance at a birthday party for Colon’s wife, Katherine Coral, last year.

“I don’t remember the occasion exactly, but if I’m there, I’m there,” said Anzalone. “If you invited me to your birthday party, I would show up.”

Colon’s assistant, Katherine Castro, at the May 4 meeting.

Anzalone was unwilling to explain the reason for his involvement in a complicated and secrecy-shrouded $358,000 condominium purchase in March that also involved Colon, one of his business associates, and a former NSID board president.

The condo in Coral Springs was initially purchased on March 4 by a blind trust whose trustee was Stephen Cameron, an attorney for whom Colon has worked as an investigator. A week later Cameron deeded the property to Anzalone as trustee in a transaction that listed Colon as a witness.

Anzalone then deeded the property to Mark Capwell, a lawyer and former NSID board president who left the district in 2020. For that transaction, Colon again served as a witness, along with NSID clerk Brenda Richard. Notarizing the deed was Castro, Colon’s assistant at NSID.

The original purchase appears to have been a cash deal and the buyer of the property is never identified in public documents. Anzalone, who is an attorney, refused to shed any light on the deal when asked if Colon was the buyer.

“I can’t tell you legal stuff,” he said. “I can’t tell you attorney-client privilege. I was being hired as an attorney.”

Capwell, the former NSID president, had a similar response when contacted by FLCGA News on the phone.

“You’re going into areas of attorney-client privilege,” said Capwell. “I can’t talk about any of that. I’m still an attorney and I have to honor that.”

When asked specifically if Colon was the owner, Capwell said, “I can’t admit or deny that because the whole point of the trust is to not disclose that.”

Capwell’s very presence at NSID is testament to Colon’s control over the district. Prior to his election to the NSID board, Capwell served as vice president for a now defunct company owned by Colon called R & A Asset Recovery, Inc. Capwell resigned his position at R & A in January 2016 and was soon elected to the NSID board, where he was installed as president just six months later.

When asked if he had any other financial connections to Colon or NSID, Capwell refused to answer the question.

Peter Hegedus, a member of the Heron Bay opposition group, said he finds the “intertwining interests” of East Coast and NSID “abhorrent.”

“[Colon] should not have a business relationship with a company that he is supposed to be supervising [at NSID],” said Hegedus. “That’s a total conflict of interest. It’s against the most elementary rules of contracting and business, not just government.

Questioning the rap sheet

Anzalone himself once had political ambitions. He ran for city commission in Cooper City back in 1998, when he was 32-years-old. But the campaign was tainted when the Sun-Sentinel reported on his criminal history.

In an article headlined, “Record doesn’t deter bid,” the newspaper detailed candidate Anzalone’s “rap sheet,” which included “arrests on charges ranging from use of a stolen credit card to grand theft and spans from 1985 to 1994.”

Anzalone had been arrested four times with charges dropped in two of the cases, the newspaper reported, citing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In 1994, he pleaded no contest to fraudulent use of a credit card and grand theft and was sentenced to two days in jail that had already been served.

“According to the arrest report, a Burdines sales clerk was issuing fraudulent credit to the accounts of several people, including four accounts held by Anzalone,” the Sentinel reported. “In one transaction, Anzalone purchased $1,469 worth of luggage. He then left Burdines with the luggage. However, the receipt showed the transaction was recorded as a credit on his Visa card.”

Anzalone was required to pay $2,000 in restitution to Burdines. The newspaper also reported that Anzalone pleaded no contest in 1985 to grand larceny and using a stolen credit card. In that case he was sentenced to 18 months probation as well as $120 in restitution.

Broward County court records also show a 1988 conspiracy to distribute cocaine charge for Anzalone. That case was dropped by prosecutors a few weeks after the arrest. Anzalone said he believes the arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

“That one they had the wrong people,” he told FCLGA News. “They pulled over a truck that we were driving and I think they found it was the wrong people and they dropped everything.”

He told the Sun-Sentinel in 1998 that his arrests were due to his lack of cooperation.

“Every one of these [arrests]could have been avoided,” said Anzalone, who was a second year law student at the University of Miami at the time. “[Police officers] question you first and if you answer their questions you are dismissed. But I don’t cooperate, I just don’t.”

Barring traffic infractions, Anzalone hasn’t added to that rap sheet in the quarter century since. He graduated law school In 1999 and was soon working as a public defender in Broward County.

“I went to law school just so I could work at the Public Defender’s Office and help indigent people,” he said. “That’s the kind of person I am. I passed up other jobs for more money so I could work with indigent people.”

In 2002, Anzalone obtained his general contractor’s license and formed East Coast. He acted as both a public defender and construction company operator until 2014, when he left the Public Defender’s Office to focus full time on his construction company. He lists his construction company and law office at a mail drop at a UPS Store on University Boulevard in Davie.

As part of his proposal for the Heron Bay development, Anzalone boasted that East Coast had overseen more than $100 million worth of demolition and construction projects.The three largest East Coast projects he listed as having completed were the Kendall Ice Arena, the Pines Ice Arena, and the Shoppes at Waterways in Aventura.

East Coast owner Anzalone at NSID following the May 4 meeting.

The problem: East Coast didn’t build any of those projects. All of them were in fact completed years before the company was even founded. The completion dates provided in Anzalone’s proposal were erroneous. In the case of the Pines Ice Arena, for instance, Anzalone wrote that the building was done at a cost of $12 million in 2012, when in reality it was built in the late 1990s for $6.6 million by another company.

When questioned about the discrepancies, Anzalone admitted that East Coast hadn’t actually built them. He explained that the projects were completed by a Miami company called Nibor Enterprises, but he included them because he personally worked on the job sites as a “construction supervisor” back in his 20s.

He said he also listed the properties in part because Nibor Enterprises CEO Shlomo Epstein is on his development team for the Heron Bay project as “financial coordinator.”

“We’ve done many projects together,” said Anzalone of Epstein. “I was working for Nibor when we did Kendall and Pines Ice Arena.”

NSID, under the leadership of Anzalone business associate Colon, either never identified the discrepancies in the East Coast proposal or didn’t disclose them to the public.

Heron Bay resident Neil Bass, a leader of the anti-development group, said it sounded like “more smoke and mirrors.”

“Everything I’ve heard is that East Coast hasn’t done anything as substantial [as the Heron Bay project],” Bass said. “How is it that they are going to get this job?”

A $28,000 Dog

Often working with both Colon and Anzalone is a third man, Vandin Calitu, a state-licensed engineer and former NSID board member who has also been involved in millions of dollars worth of construction projects at the agency.

Calitu served as engineer and project manager for Colon’s company, Intersol, and, as previously reported by FLCGA News, was deeply tied to all three bidders for Colon’s first big $4 million contract with the agency. Calitu’s own company, VLC One Inc., recently won $5 million in NSID contracts to conduct site work at Heron Bay.

Calitu’s company has also served as a subcontractor for East Coast, most notably on the building of the records facility at the water plant that began in January 2020 as a $3.25 million project, but soon grew to $7.4 million.

District records show that just four months after East Coast was given the records facility contract, NSID awarded the company a change order to build a second floor, adding $1.965 million to the bill. In December 2020, NSID handed East Coast another $1.872 million change order for a roof replacement, the removal of load-bearing walls, a lab expansion, and the addition of “another locker room.” Another $300,000 was added a few months later to bring the total for the building to $7.4 million.

In the same time period, NSID awarded East Coast more than $3 million in additional contracts to bring its total to over $10 million during a 14-month period.

In January 2021, photographs were posted on Facebook by Calitu’s wife, Adriana, of Anzalone celebrating the 44th birthday of Colon’s wife, Katherine Coral. A photo of Vandin Calitu, Colon and their respective wives was also posted. Anzalone said he occasionally socializes with Colon “if there’s an event or something,” but added “we don’t hang out.”

County records show that East Coast was lined up last November to install a paver driveway at the home of Castro, Colon’s assistant. Anzalone admitted that a notice of commencement was filed for his company to do the work but says he never did it.

“Someone might have thought I would do something or help them,” he said. “But there was no work done by East Coast Builders or Frank Anzalone on that job.”

Another personal connection between the parties comes in a lawsuit filed by Adriana Calitu. Filed in October 2020, the suit alleges that when she attempted to buy a $28,000 French bulldog (with “the most exotic and expensive” color), the dealer switched dogs on her. She claims to be owed a $5,000 deposit she put down on the purchase. Adriana Calitu’s attorney in the case? Frank Anzalone.

Calitu was initially listed as East Coast’s project manager for the Heron Bay project in bid documents submitted last year. Another contractor, Upper Buena Vista Management of Miami, was chosen for the job last fall. Anzalone says that choice alone proves the fix wasn’t in for his company.

“The track record is me not getting picked a majority of the time,” he said.

But disagreements between NSID and Upper Buena Vista led to the latter’s removal from the job and prompted a new round of proposals from three companies – the Falcone Group, Toll Brothers, and East Coast. Calitu was removed as project manager in the second East Coast proposal, though he was listed as a witness to Anzalone’s signature in the document.

East Coast had by far the most commercial development in its plan and offered NSID just $21 million for the land, $11 million less than Toll Brothers, and $17 million less than Falcone.

Despite that $11 million deficit and its unpopular plan, East Coast was chosen by a three-member panel consisting of Colon and two of his underlings as the recommended firm to build at Heron Bay.

“I don’t trust them.”

Heron Bay residents, whose anti-development Facebook page numbers more than 570 members, mobilized to oppose the East Coast plan. While they prefer no development on the property, their clear favorite is Toll Brothers’ plan, which involves 110 “luxury home sites” along with no more than 175,000 square feet of commercial space.

NSID Board Supervisor Grace Solomon voicing support for East Coast

When Colon recommended East Coast at the May 4 meeting, those residents packed the meeting to protest the East Coast selection. The meeting began with a surprise, when board president Moretti, usually little more than a rubber stamp for Colon’s directives, failed to show up. Attempts by FLCGA News to contact Moretti were unsuccessful.

That left two board members – Grace Solomon and Robert Payton – to make the decision regarding the recommendation. After hearing numerous residents criticize the East Coast plan, Solomon indicated she still backed it.

“Residents, myself included, are tired of driving to Boca or south of here in order to go to a nice restaurant or to meet friends for drinks and dinner,” Solomon explained, “or to go to a nice spa or go shopping or do something fun with the kids and have a place to walk around and have a coffee or an ice cream.”

Payton then both shocked and delighted the crowd when he essentially tabled the matter, saying the plans needed more vetting by the cities and county. The matter was delayed until the next meeting, which is scheduled for June 1.

“It’s gonna be traffic, it’s gonna be zoning, it’s gonna be land use, it’s gonna be a lot of things,” Payton said. “… There’s going to be a lot of obstacles in the way, so I think we just need to take a step back.”

After the contentious meeting was over, Anzalone waited to meet with Colon.

When everybody got done talking to him, I asked [Colon], ‘What’s happening?’” said Anzalone. “He [explained what happened] at the board [meeting] I’m assuming I’m going back there in the next month. I have no idea.”

Residents will fight East Coast’s proposal as long as it takes, promised Heron Bay resident Bass.

“I think East Coast should be eliminated based on the ethical issues alone,” he said.

NSID’s published agenda for its next meeting indicates the board will again vote on East Coast on June 1. But on Friday the Parkland City Commission called an emergency meeting for June 8 to discuss a plan to purchase the golf course property from NSID and let the city take the reins on any development that might take place. It’s a welcome development for the residents.

“I hope Parkland buys the land,” said Bass. “I want NSID out of the picture. I don’t trust them.”

About the Author: Bob Norman is an award-winning investigative reporter who serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Florida Trident and journalism program director for the Florida Center for Government Accountability.

Executive Director’s note: The investigative series on the North Springs Improvement District won Honorable Mention in the 2023 Esserman-Knight Journalism Awards.