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Oyster Bay employee appears in court in corruption probe

Salvatore Cecere arrives at the Nassau County Courthouse

Salvatore Cecere arrives at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola on Thursday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Attorneys for a Town of Oyster Bay employee indicted in a corruption probe attacked at a court hearing Thursday the validity of statements prosecutors said he made to investigators about a tree removal job.

Town highway maintenance supervisor Salvatore Cecere, 51, of West Sayville, appeared at the hearing in Nassau County Court after being arraigned in June 2017 on official misconduct and theft of services charges.

His arrest followed an investigation that also led to the indictment of former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and others, including Frank Antetomaso, Cecere’s uncle and a former town public works commissioner. All the defendants pleaded not guilty.

State Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood on Thursday set a Nov. 13 trial date for Cecere and Antetomaso, 78, of Massapequa, who faces the same charges as his nephew.

Prosecutor Jesse Aviram told Wood that Cecere’s statements were voluntary and he spoke to authorities “because that is what he wanted to do.”

But defense attorney Joseph Ferri, who wants most of the statements thrown out, told Wood that key investigator notes were missing and his client was “deprived” of seeing if they matched a prosecution case memo created six months later.

“We’re not saying that he didn’t make some statements,” the Garden City lawyer said after court. “We’re just saying that the statements they claim he made are not true.”

Prosecutors have alleged Antetomaso, then working at a Mineola engineering firm, called Cecere and asked if the town would repair a friend’s sidewalk after a dead tree damaged it. A wiretap recorded the call, according to prosecutors, who say Cecere told his uncle a town program subsidizing homeowners’ costs for sidewalk repairs had ended, but he'd do the work as a favor.

Antetomaso then gave his nephew the address and Cecere had town workers remove a dead tree and replace the sidewalk, according to prosecutors, who previously said the homeowner never got a bill.

Cecere allegedly told authorities after learning he was caught on a wiretap “there was no special circumstance to justify the town performing this work.”

Detective Investigator Lana Zavulunov testified Thursday about a serving an eavesdropping notice in December 2016 with her colleague, William Gillespie, who has since died. She testified Cecere looked “displeased” and “surprised,” but talked to them in his home and agreed he would like to come to their office to talk more.

Detective Investigator Thomas Biggers, who was at Cecere’s office interview, testified Cecere wouldn’t talk about certain topics, but said he wanted to be “helpful” and didn’t want to face a felony charge. Biggers said the case memo he wrote was based in part on Gillespie’s interview notes — now missing following Gillespie’s 2017 death.

Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Nevin said Thursday Cecere was suspended for 30 days without pay after his indictment, but laws “prevent the town from dispensing further discipline” pending the case’s outcome. Cecere’s title hasn’t changed, but he no longer oversees highway crews, according to Nevin.

Joseph Conway, an attorney for Antetomaso, said Thursday his client was “prepared to move forward” with the November trial.

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