John Venditto, the former Oyster Bay supervisor acquitted on all counts in a federal corruption-related trial last month, has asked the town to foot his legal bill in a separate civil litigation brought by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
In November, the SEC alleged that the town and Venditto concealed Oyster Bay agreements to indirectly guarantee private loans of more than $20 million to former concessionaire Harendra Singh in 26 securities offerings, from August 2010 to December 2015.
The request to indemnify Venditto came from Marc Agnifilo, the Manhattan attorney who successfully defended the former supervisor on federal criminal charges, including securities and wire fraud, during a trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
The jury acquitted Venditto, a Republican. U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack later declared a mistrial for Venditto’s co-defendants, Edward Mangano, Nassau’s former county executive, and Mangano’s wife, Linda.
Federal prosecutors have said they intend to retry the couple.
Venditto, meanwhile, faces criminal charges under separate actions brought by Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas — in addition to the civil allegations levied by the SEC for actions Venditto took while town supervisor.
He has pleaded not guilty to the state charges.
Agnifilo said in an interview he had requested that Venditto be indemnified under New York State law and Oyster Bay Town code. “I think the rules are pretty clear that he is entitled,” Agnifilo said.
Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, acknowledged the request.
Oyster Bay, acting under provisions of a state law , is authorized to defend and indemnify officials, according to town code, “in actions that arise out of acts or omissions that occurred within the scope of the officers’ ... duties.”
Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk deputy county executive and an expert on municipal law, said that under the state law, municipalities would provide legal representation for indemnified officials. In addition, he said, officials would not be liable personally for damages assessed in a civil proceeding, such as the SEC lawsuit.
In short, the municipality would bear the cost of legal representation, and potential damages.
Venditto’s request went first to the town attorney, and then, per Oyster Bay code, will go to the town board for a vote.
The next scheduled board meeting is Tuesday, but as of Friday afternoon the indemnification request was not on the agenda.
Still, Agnifilo said he expected the matter to come up for board consideration. “I think I am going to hit some resistance,” he said, “and quite frankly I don’t understand that.”
Should the measure pass, the town then would retain Agnifilo to represent Venditto, Agnifilo said.
Often, in such cases, the town attorney represents indemnified officials. In this instance, however, the SEC also included the town as a defendant in its civil suit.
Agnifilo, because he represented Venditto on the criminal SEC allegations on which he was acquitted, is familiar with SEC allegations and related evidence presented at that trial.
In the civil case, the SEC complaint alleges “fraudulent omissions and misrepresentations in failing to disclose to the investing public material information” relating to four loans the town indirectly guaranteed for Singh. In addition to the alleged failures to disclose, the SEC also alleges that disclosures made by Oyster Bay in four offerings between December 2015 and December 2016 were “materially misleading.”
A year ago, shortly after his appointment to succeed Venditto, Saladino said, “John Venditto and his inner circle have become the national poster boys for public corruption and malfeasance.”
“Under my watch,” Saladino continued, “we have turned the corner and we are cleaning house.”
Saladino, a Republican, went on to win election to his post, besting four opponents. Since then, he’s continued to try and distance his administration from Venditto’s.
With that, it would come as no surprise if Saladino and the rest of the all-Republican board vote against representing Venditto.
Should a vote fail, Agnifilo said, Venditto would sue. “I don’t think they have a leg to stand on to deny it,” he said.