Owner of padlocked restaurant sues town of Oyster Bay

Philip Morizio, who owned Cafe Al Dente, has Philip Morizio, who owned Cafe Al Dente, has sued town planning chief Frederick Ippolito in late February 2014, saying Ippolito orchestrated a conspiracy to put Morizio out of business. Morizio and his fiancee Louise Anzini outside the restaurant on Aug. 3, 2010. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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The owner of Cafe al Dente, a restaurant the town of Oyster Bay padlocked last year, has sued, claiming his due process rights were violated.

In the suit filed Wednesday in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip, restaurant owner Philip Morizio charged that commissioner of planning and development Frederick Ippolito orchestrated a conspiracy to put him out of business.

He alleged Ippolito acted out of spite because he would not relocate to a vacant Italian restaurant Ippolito owned or use an attorney the commissioner recommended.

The suit also names Ippolito and three building inspectors as individual defendants.

"We are seeking the value of Cafe Al Dente when it was padlocked by the town, punitive damages, lost profits, and interest," as well as attorney's fees, Morizio's lawyer, John Palmer of Mineola, said Friday.

Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said "the town is in receipt of the suit, and it is under review by the town attorney's office."

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Inspectors on Sept. 16 shut down the Italian-American restaurant that had operated for two decades across the street from town hall, citing alleged health and building code violations. Inspectors said the owner-chef had failed to resolve violations for 18 months at the 36-seat eatery at 2 Spring St. Morizio said he made changes demanded by inspectors and the county fire marshal's office.

The suit alleges Ippolito called Morizio to his office on May 24, 2012, told him he was through in Oyster Bay and suggested he move his business and use a specified attorney -- not named in the suit -- to smooth future dealings with the office.

When Morizio refused, the suit says, the next day a building inspector came to the restaurant and told the owner that Ippolito had directed him to "write up" Morizio for everything he could.

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The suit says that last summer a production company wanted to film a show for the Food Network about renovating the restaurant at the company's expense. But Ippolito refused to meet with the company to talk about permits.

After Morizio reached out to the office of Supervisor John Venditto, the suit says, on Aug. 13, three inspectors arrived -- Gary Blanchard, Joseph Ciambra and Joseph Cangro -- saying they were writing up paperwork to close the restaurant. The suit alleges that Blanchard told Morizio the reason was "Fred is mad that you went over his head to Supervisor Venditto's office."

The suit says there was no notice of the padlocking of the establishment and none of the violations cited by the town qualified it as dangerous under town law, which would have allowed it to be closed.

The suit also charges the town board refused to schedule a hearing when petitioned by Morizio to withdraw the dangerous building designation, as town law requires.

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