Surprise in Suffolk fraud case
A "high elected official" received cash payments for public work awarded to a Suffolk County title company, the defendant in an upcoming mortgage and insurance fraud trial alleges in court papers.
The defendant, former Suffolk Legis. George Guldi, and the Suffolk District Attorney's office state that a witness against Guldi in the case, Ethan Ellner, said he made cash payments or campaign contributions to the unnamed official in exchange for work from Suffolk awarded to a title company connected with Ellner.
Neither set of papers identifies the official. The Suffolk District Attorney's office is seeking to prevent Ellner from being asked to reveal the name of the official at Guldi's upcoming trial.
In 2009 both Guldi and Ellner were charged with involvement in an $82 million mortgage scam. Ellner later pleaded guilty to grand larceny, scheme to defraud and conspiracy to commit fraud charges and is awaiting sentencing. Ellner agreed to testify against Guldi.
Records show a company Ellner was a partner in received more than $85,000 in county work. He has been a longtime friend of Suffolk Executive Steve Levy, who said last April that he recommended Ellner be considered for title work from the county to help him get back on his feet after a tax evasion conviction.
When asked about allegations in the court papers, Levy issued a statement that read: "Desperate defendants often fabricate claims in the hopes of softening their sentences. It is common for a defendant facing hard time to throw out allegations he knows cannot be proven yet cannot be disproven. I request donations from thousands of residents and businesses on a yearly basis, but have never, ever demanded one."
Levy also said in his statement that the company Ellner partly runs, Suburban Abstract, of Stony Brook, was awarded the work by the county attorney's office after the company was vetted. County Attorney Christine Malafi, whose office oversees county title work, also issued a statement yesterday: "Once Suburban was vetted, I never had a conversation with the County Executive as to the assignment of title work to that, or any other, company."
Guldi's trial on insurance and grand larceny charges is scheduled to begin Friday before Acting Supreme Court Justice James F.X. Doyle. A 2009 indictment charged Guldi, Ellner and others with involvement in a mortgage scam that left scores of luxury homes in Southampton in foreclosure.
Without saying whether an investigation is ongoing, the papers say any disclosure of the official's name could jeopardize such an investigation. District Attorney Thomas Spota's office also has requested a gag order preventing all parties from disclosing the official's name to the news media.
The district attorney's office declined to comment Monday.
Guldi, in his papers, argued that barring him from questioning Ellner as to the identity of the public official would violate Guldi's constitutional right to cross-examine witnesses. He also stated, "When Ellner's political patron does come up in the trial, defendant will be compelled to refer to him as 'he who must not be named.' "
Ellner's law license was suspended in March 1999 after a federal tax evasion conviction. It was reinstated in November 2001, according to court records. Levy said in April that he recommended that Ellner, 50, of Plainview, be hired by the county from 2005 through 2009 because he had been impressed by work Ellner had done for Levy's private law practice. Levy said he usually does not recommend title companies, but did so because he personally found the firm's work "spotless."
Assistant District Attorney Thalia Stavrides argued in the court papers that Guldi could ask Ellner if he made campaign contributions to get title work, but that revealing the name of the public official "would compromise any such investigation and serve to cause speculation and possible confusion among the jurors as well as inflaming the public."
Ellner and Levy met at St. John's University Law School, and Levy served as an usher at Ellner's wedding, according to Ellner's ex-wife, Stacy. When the Ellners divorced, Ethan Ellner rented an apartment from Levy in his Holbrook home, Levy has said.
After Newsday reported that Levy recommended Ellner for county work, the county Legislature passed a law banning people with criminal records from getting title work. Levy vetoed the bill in July; the Legislature overrode his veto, enacting the new law.