Guldi trial likely to be anything but boring

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George Guldi arrives at Riverhead Criminal Court. (Jan. George Guldi arrives at Riverhead Criminal Court. (Jan. 5, 2011) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Rick Brand Portrait of Newsday reporter Rick Brand taken on

Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.

Even before the Harry Potter-sque "high elected official" who could not be named and now can, the criminal trials that former Suffolk Legis. George Guldi is facing had everything.

The allegations concern an $82-million mortgage scam involving more than 60 homes from Cold Spring Harbor to Bridgehampton where conspirators are alleged to have stolen mortgage proceeds using straw buyers. Guldi also is accused of an $853,000 insurance fraud after a fire destroyed his late father's Westhampton home. Guldi's alleged conspirators include a dominatrix, who recruited bogus buyers from clients and employees and ran a Manhattan sex club.

But even before jury selection began Friday, Guldi, well-known for pyrotechnic ploys, dramatically upped the ante. "George is always full of surprises," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who unseated Guldi in a 2003 upset. "If he knows something, he'll use it to his advantage."

Guldi, who maintains he's innocent, had a subpoena served on County Executive Steve Levy at a news conference Thursday. Earlier, Guldi opposed a motion raised by the district attorney to bar him from asking a former co-defendant and longtime Levy friend Ethan Ellner to identify a "high elected official," whom Guldi claims Ellner paid cash for getting county title work. County Court Judge James F.X. Doyle ruled Thursday, on the eve of trial, that the official can be named.

Levy acknowledges recommending Ellner for title work - totaling $85,000 - even though Ellner was once jailed for tax evasion, disbarred and cited by the county's own consumer office for "unconscionable trade practices." Levy called Ellner's work "spotless" and wanted to give him "a second chance."

For Levy, facing re-election this fall, seeing Ellner on the stand or appearing himself is the last thing his campaign needs. Spokesman Dan Aug said Levy will seek to quash the subpoena. Aug called Guldi "a desperate defendant who is so deranged" that he claims District Attorney Thomas Spota and Levy "are in a conspiracy to bring him down."

Backers say Guldi's efforts will have no impact on Levy's re-election bid. "It's just not credible," said Michael Dawidziak, a veteran Levy campaign adviser. "On one hand, you have a guy who will do anything to lighten his sentence and then you have the county executive who has been squeaky clean for 25 years."

But Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic leader, said the trial poses unchartered waters to navigate. "An elected official doesn't want to be subpoenaed anywhere for anything," he said. "It's not in the guide on how to run for office."

And the dust storm Guldi has already created shows how much of a wild card the trial could be. While he could still reach a plea deal before opening statements, now scheduled for Wednesday, some who know him say Guldi relishes making a splash.

In 2009, he ran and lost a Democratic primary against Schneiderman even after his indictment. And Guldi can be persuasive. He first won as a county lawmaker in 1993 even after admitting he was a tax deadbeat. He blamed the recession, saying clients owed him money.

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