“There is something rotten in Oyster Bay,” U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler said almost a year ago in postponing sentencing for the town’s former planning and development commissioner on federal tax evasion charges.
Last week, allegations of bribery, money laundering, nepotism, illegal favors and a corrupt multimillion-dollar property deal spread across three separate indictments confirmed Wexler’s suspicion.
More significant than the indictments, however, is where the work behind them occurred: The Nassau County district attorney’s office.
One business and eight individuals — including the former planning and development commissioner, Frederick Ippolito, who died in federal custody in June after pleading guilty to federal tax evasion charges, and the former town supervisor, John Venditto, who resigned earlier this year after pleading not guilty to federal corruption-related charges — were named in the indictment, which included some 220 state criminal charges.
The staff of Madeline Singas, Nassau’s DA, built the cases using court-authorized wire taps, search warrants and an exhaustive review of government files, along with personal and business financial records.
Local prosecution of public corruption cases has been a rarity in Nassau, going back to the administrations of the last two district attorneys.
But a few things stood out with last week’s indictments.
First, there are provisions in state law — albeit ones not as strong as district attorneys would like — that open the door to prosecuting such cases.
In the longest indictment unsealed in the case last week, 48 of a total 69 pages detail allegations of bribe receiving, receiving reward for official misconduct and official misconduct involving town officials. Another 11 pages flip that coin over, by detailing allegations — against defendants seeking to influence officials — of bribery and rewarding official misconduct.
Over the past two years, the federal government — rather than local district attorneys — have carried the ball in investigating and lodging corruption-related charges on Long Island. Federal investigators have far more leeway than the state’s. And state laws generally allow for lighter penalties than federal corruption-related statutes — all the more reason to press for stronger state measures.
Another interesting aspect of last week’s indictments is their reach. Ippolito (against whom charges probably will be dropped, since he is deceased) and Frank Antetomaso, Oyster Bay’s former public works commissioner, who pleaded not guilty to charges that included official misconduct and theft of services, had been considered so politically powerful over decades as to be untouchable.
But here is where the indictments — and successful prosecutions, should Singas’ office prevail — become most relevant: The substance of allegations involving Oyster Bay could apply to almost any municipality on Long Island.
Nepotism? Securing a job, at double the pay no less, for someone with connections? Steering contracts? Pay to play? Rigged real estate deals? Favors for friends? Cover-ups (as in allegations that town employees lost their jobs because Oyster Bay needed to bundle firings to obscure one targeted dismissal)?
Pick a county, town, village, city on Long Island, and many of the same practices — so widespread, for so long, as to wrongfully be considered acceptable — go on.
Want to know why taxes are so high on Long Island? Corruption is one factor. Which is why there is plentiful work left for Singas and the feds — and whoever succeeds Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota — to tackle.