The courtroom in Central Islip was almost empty when Edward Ambrosino walked in from a side door to the defendant’s table Friday. And the Hempstead Town Board member, who serves as deputy to Supervisor Anthony Santino in the Republican stronghold, had little to say during his six-minute arraignment before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.
She asked if Ambrosino was pleading not guilty to an indictment alleging tax evasion. “Correct, your honor,” he said.
She asked if he understood the terms of his release, which included $250,000 bond secured by his father’s mortgage-free house and surrendering his passport. “I do, your honor,” he said.
Finally, Seybert asked, did he have any questions? “I do not, your honor,” replied Ambrosino, as his brother, Mark, sat a few benches behind him in the spectators’ rows.
But for all the formality and polite silence, even, a tectonic movement was taking place.
With Ambrosino’s arrest Friday, and a Newsday report Thursday that authorities had subpoenaed law-enforcement records in the 2011 Huntington Station shooting of an unarmed cabdriver by an off-duty Nassau cop, federal prosecutors were pursuing investigations:
- In all three of Nassau’s towns — Democratic-run North Hempstead, where once-powerful party leader Gerard Terry was forced from a series of municipal and political posts after being indicted on tax-related charges; Republican-run Oyster Bay, where former Supervisor John Venditto has pleaded not guilty to corruption-related charges; and, now, with Ambrosino, Hempstead.
- In Nassau County, where County Executive Edward Mangano has pleaded not guilty to corruption-related charges.
- In the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, where sources say those under scrutiny include the prosecutor responsible for handling corruption-related cases.
- And, with Thursday’s disclosures about subpoenas in the case of the unarmed cabdriver shot by an off-duty Nassau cop, of more members of both county police departments (and this on the heels of last year’s conviction of former Suffolk Chief of Department James Burke, who is now in federal prison after pleading guilty to beating a suspect).
The spotlight on Ambrosino also, once more, revealed how things work behind the scenes on Long Island. In addition to his duties as an elected official, Ambrosino works “of counsel” for Mangano’s former law firm; as general counsel for Nassau County’s Industrial Development Agency, whose members are appointed by Mangano; and as special counsel to Mangano himself.
“This arrest is yet another example of how corruption has infected every level of government, and why we need stronger penalties and oversight to fight it,” said state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who said he was crafting legislation that would prohibit elected and party officials — like Ambrosino and Terry — from receiving fees from so many different entities.
And Gary Hudes, a fellow Republican Hempstead Town Board member, was critical of Ambrosino as well. “Naturally, I am very disturbed by the allegations leveled against Councilman Ambrosino,” Hudes said in a statement. “As public servants in government, our standards should be at the highest level of honesty and integrity.”
On Friday, Ambrosino and his attorney, Dennis Lemke of Mineola, stopped before a tiny scrum of reporters gathered in a cold, punishing rain across from the courthouse.
Are you going to resign from the town council? several asked.
No, said Lemke, speaking for his client.
He held firm to a big umbrella in the wind, smiled at reporters and said, “Stay dry.”