Venditto, seven others indicted for public corruption
The federal conviction of a longtime power player in the Town of Oyster Bay opened up a window into the town’s operations.
But the way District Attorney Madeline Singas described it, the more apt metaphor was lifting a rock and seeing what was beneath.
Though he died in prison on June 4, former Commissioner of Planning Frederick Ippolito set in motion an investigation that threatens to put former Oyster Bay town officials behind bars.
Among these are former longtime supervisor John Venditto, already facing federal corruption charges. He resigned from office in early January.
On June 28, following the findings of a grand jury, Singas charged eight individuals (including Ippolito) with public corruption in three separate indictments. All had ties to the Republican machine that has dominated town politics for decades. Sources indicated that charges against Ippolito would be dropped upon receipt of a death certificate.
All appeared before Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood in Nassau County Court and pleaded not guilty. They will be back in court in September.
According to Singas, “the indictments allege a shocking and interrelated web of political corruption at the highest levels of Town of Oyster Bay government. These actions victimized the taxpayers and betrayed the public trust.”
The conviction of Ippolito last January 2016 on federal tax evasion charges—he was alleged to have received more that $2 million in illegal fees from Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, Inc, where he had been a consultant and which did extensive business with the town—set in motion the DA’s 14-month investigation.
“The investigation turned up evidence of bribery, money laundering, a corrupt multimillion dollar property deal, rampant nepotism and illegal favors,” according to Singas, who noted that though Ippolito was removed from office, he still exercised influence over the operations of town government.
This led to the first indictment, in which Venditto, 68, of Massapequa, faces felony charges of corrupt use of position or authority. If convicted, Venditto faces up to 1⅓ to four years in prison.
Also indicted was Richard Porcelli, 70, of Ronkonkoma, and a leader of the North Massapequa Republican Club. The top charge against him was two counts of official misconduct (a misdemeanor). If convicted, he faces up to a year in prison. Singas noted that though Porcelli held no official position, “he directed town affairs with such frequency that town employees thought he worked there, and others had been told to take direction from him as though it came from Venditto himself.”
Former Parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino, 65, of Massapequa, was charged with official misconduct (a misdemeanor). He faces up to a year in prison.
According to the narrative provided by Singas, Venditto and Porcelli— at Ippolito’s behest—directed Nocerino to hire an individual to work in the Parks Department at a time when the town wasn’t hiring and was even contemplating layoffs. The new hire, who according to Singas was the son of Ippolito’s romantic interest, received double the salary of those who held similar positions in the department. When the relationship soured, Singas alleges, Ippolito ordered that the individual be fired, and to divert attention, two others from the department were fired at the same time.
The second indictment involved former Commissioner of Public Works Frank Antetomaso, 77, of Massapequa and his nephew, current town Highway Maintenance Supervisor Salvatore Cecere, 50, of West Sayville. Both were charged with one count each of official misconduct and theft of services (misdemeanors). They face up to one year in prison.
In this situation, according to Singas, Antetomaso called Cecere and had him remove a tree and fix a sidewalk at a friend’s house in North Massapequa. This happened at a time when residents were being asked to pay for these repairs.
Antetomaso was also charged in a separate indictment with fifth degree conspiracy (a misdemeanor) in connection with what Singas described as an elaborate real estate development scheme involving Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving. In this indictment, Venditto also faces an additional two counts of defrauding the government (a felony).
According to Singas, Elia “Aly” Lizza, 69, and his wife, Marisa Lizza, 61, of Oyster Bay Cove, paid $1.6 million to Ippolito so that he could use his official position to influence the development of a $150 million senior housing complex, Cantiague Commons on Lizza-owned property on West John Street in Hicksville. This led to Ippolito’s federal indictment.
Singas claimed Lizza was to receive anticipated payments in excess of $20 million dollars “from the developer of Cantiague Commons while Ippolito was simultaneously controlling the oversight of the developer’s rezoning application and site plan approval.”
The Lizzas face up to 15 years in prison for various felonies.
Ippolito, Singas charged, influenced the town board to make a change in the zoning law so that the project could go forward. In addition, he negotiated the sale of 50 Engel St. to the town. Lizza & Sons Paving, Inc. operated an asphalt plant there and this property was necessary to complete the proposed project. Though it was offered for free, Venditto agreed that the town would purchase the property for $2.5 million and the sale went through via what Singas called questionable means.
To date, “the property has not been developed or used by the town,” Singas noted.
Singas said that the Lizzas, after Ippolito’s indictment, communicated with him through Antetomaso, a principal at Sidney Bowne & Son engineering firm, which was working on the Cantiague Commons project and has had extensive contracts with the town.
In her concluding remarks, Singas said that the investigation “uncovered a culture of government corruption that we allege benefited those in power, their friends and families at the expense of Oyster Bay taxpayers. We found a government plagued by rampant nepotism and generations of family members on the town payroll. And we found unscrupulous public officials, who betrayed their obligations to the people they serve.”
She added, “It is my hope that this prosecution will send a message to government officials in Nassau County, and Nassau County voters, that we must do better. Some of the conduct and government practices our investigation uncovered are not criminal in nature, but they do a terrible disservice to the public and they beg wide ranging reforms, which I’m committed to advancing at the county and municipal level. The people deserve a government that is honest and transparent and is accountable.”
Current Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor held a press conference following the one at the District Attorney’s Office and read the following statement:
Today is a very disturbing day in the Town of Oyster Bay’s history. The criminal complaint filed against former officials and vendors comes as no surprise to the public—it is simply more evidence of the problems that plagued the town before I got here.
With these indictments, Supervisor Venditto and his inner circle have become national poster boys for public corruption, mismanagement and malfeasance. They have embarrassed the residents and hardworking men and women of Oyster Bay Town government, who show up for work each day to deliver honest services and take home honest pay. Just like our employees and our residents, I am outraged by the abuses and flat out arrogance of those we trusted with our vote and our tax dollars.
Let me state clearly, I have zero tolerance for impropriety or even the appearance of such. Five months ago, the town board put its faith in me to clean house and restore ethics to the Supervisors office. I take that very seriously, and under my watch, we have turned the corner and we ARE cleaning house.
Together, the town board and I took significant actions to safeguard your wallet and restore the public’s trust. We removed town officials and banned dishonest vendors from doing business with Oyster Bay. We have sued Sidney Bowne—a company whose principals include Frank Antetomaso. I am announcing here today that we are terminating all contracts and banning future work with his company.
To recoup your tax dollars from those who deceived the town through crooked concession agreements, we also sued a prominent law firm, along with Harendra Singh and Fred Mei—a former deputy town attorney who conspired with Singh.
Let me be clear: We will terminate the town’s relationship with anyone associated with corruption or wrongdoing.
Let’s face it, we were all taken for a ride by a handful of dishonest individuals who sought to get rich quick off our tax dollars. That’s why the Town board and I have approved initiatives to greatly strengthen accountability, protect your wallet and prevent this from ever happening again.
Our first action was to hire a former federal prosecutor as town attorney. Next, we increased disclosure requirements for contractors, vendors and high level employees to prevent conflicts of interest and misdeeds.
We also formed a new independent board of ethics with real, meaningful oversight.
Sunlight was needed, and we shed sunlight on all town functions.
To enhance transparency and prevent future problems, the town board and I mandated that all contracts and bid proposals be posted online. We also opened the concession bid selection process to the public.We now live-stream all town board meetings and work sessions. These ethics reforms were long overdue; we got them done and we are going to do more.
In this day and age, I along with all taxpayers am leery of government. That’s why my administration has enacted reforms to restore the public’s trust.
The town board and I will continue to be proactive to ensure our residents, as well as the hardworking men and women of our town, can once again be proud of the place they call home.
In the New York State Assembly, and now in Oyster Bay, my staff and I have served our residents with the highest degree of honesty and integrity. I expect nothing less, and neither should you.
Residents should take a fresh look at what we’re doing to reform town government and deliver quality services. From our world-class parks to our pristine beaches, and our youth, senior citizen and veteran programs, the Town of Oyster Bay is the best place in the nation to live, work and raise a family.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 3, 2017, to include additional information and images.