“ . . . There is something rotten in the town of Oyster Bay,” U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler said last week in delaying sentencing for a former town official convicted of income tax evasion.
Because, yes, his honor is on to something — and not just in the case of former town planning director Frederick Ippolito, who in January pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion.
Where, oh where, oh where do we begin?
How about the town’s special treatment of restaurateur Harendra Singh, who was indicted last year on 13 felony counts — including bribing an Oyster Bay official to obtain millions of dollars in town-backed loan guarantees?
Singh has pleaded not guilty. And the town has labeled some of the guarantees invalid because they were not approved by the town board, because town officials don’t remember them, because they were not properly archived — and because they are illegal under state law, which bars municipalities from guaranteeing private debt.
But tell that to Singh’s lenders, who, as Newsday reported in May, were demanding that the town — and by extension taxpayers — pay up more than $14.5 million in Singh’s defaulted loans.
And it looks as if Singh’s singular treatment didn’t stop there.
In 2013, according to a story earlier this month by Newsday’s Ted Phillips, Oyster Bay fast-tracked a payment to Singh for superstorm-damaged professional kitchen equipment that, mistakenly, had been destroyed by town workers.
The town agreed to pay the higher cost of replacing the equipment as if it were new, rather than, as is the more common practice, paying a lower sum based on the condition of the equipment at the time it was destroyed.
Even at that, however, the $155,868 Oyster Bay ended up paying to satisfy Singh’s claim — after what town officials called extensive negotiations — ended up being higher than the $130,558 replacement cost quoted by a vendor.
The town’s justification for the deal? Officials said they sped up the payout so that Singh, who was behind on payments to Oyster Bay for running concessions at the town golf course and Tobay Beach, could pay what he owed.
Following that logic, Oyster Bay used public money to pay a private contractor, so the private contractor could give that money right back.
Meanwhile, the town took a beating on Wall Street, and got slapped for being stingy with public information.
In April, the bond rating for Oyster Bay, one of the richest towns in the United States, was dropped to junk status by a Wall Street bond rating agency. That’s lower than when angry residents in Nassau, one of the richest counties in the nation, voted in the county’s first Democratic legislative majority in 70 years — after the county’s bond rating fell to one level above junk during an economic boom.
And earlier this week, State Supreme Court Judge Leonard Steinman in Mineola ruled that Oyster Bay must turn over to Newsday documents in seven Freedom of Information Law requests. “It is in the general public’s significant interest that Newsday be permitted to conduct the news investigation it is attempting to pursue by examining public documents (or, at least, documents that should have been and now will be public),” Steinman wrote.
Wexler, in delaying Ippolito’s sentencing last week until he can get more information related to the case, said, “I have never in my 33 years, as long as I’ve been a judge, gone beyond the maximum. But there is something rotten in the town of Oyster Bay and this court wants to know what’s going on.”
The judge said he was “totally confused and wants answers,” and, he said, “I’m sure the people of Oyster Bay want answers, too.”
Looks like Wexler struck gold with his observations.