Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas’ indictment of former Oyster Bay officials and a paving company Thursday picked up where a federal prosecution had left off.
Centered around what Singas called a “crooked multi-million dollar property deal,” the grand jury indictment alleges that income the late Frederick Ippolito received from Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, Inc. and a Lizza family member were bribes to facilitate a Hicksville project called Cantiague Commons as well as help securing lucrative contracts.
Last year Ippolito, the former Oyster Bay planning and development commissioner, pleaded guilty to a single count of federal income tax evasion related to $2 million in unreported consulting fees. Ippolito died in federal prison last month while serving a 27-month sentence for the tax evasion.
“We allege that the financial interests of the Lizzas and Ippolito were intertwined, and both stood to receive a windfall if this transaction was completed,” Singas said at a news conference in Mineola Thursday following the unsealing of the indictment.
Singas said her office used interviews and wiretaps to build its case that $1.6 million in payments from the Lizzas and Carlo Lizza & Sons to Ippolito were allegedly part of “a steady stream of bribes.”
“Many of these charges are based on the defendants’ own words,” Singas said. “And I’m not sure that the feds had that.”
When U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler last year asked in the tax evasion case what the income had been for, Ippolito’s attorney Brian Griffin of Garden City-based Foley Griffin LLP, wrote that Ippolito had a decades-long relationship with Elia Lizza and was a “personnel consultant” to him and his wife after leaving the company to work for the town. The Lizzas “paid whatever they thought was fair for his advice, guidance and assistance” in “complex family matters” Griffin wrote.
In a statement emailed late last night, Griffin said “there was never a bribe paid nor a bribe received. Interestingly the district attorney has put forth these charges after Mr. Ippolito has passed away and can not put forth this truth.”
The indictment, which includes almost 200 counts of bribery or payments for official misconduct, alleges that Ippolito counseled Lizza to submit low bids to secure public works contracts that were later increased to amounts “substantially higher.” The town paid more than $50 million to Carlo Lizza & Sons for public works spending during Ippolito’s tenure as commissioner.
Elia Lizza and his wife Marisa also were indicted Thursday, charged with conspiracy, bribery, defrauding the government and rewarding official misconduct. They pleaded not guilty.
Cantiague Commmons was to be a $150-million, 390-unit senior housing project at 449 West John St. in Hicksville expected to net Elia and Marisa Lizza $22 million in fees and $2 million for Ippolito, Singas said, but it needed approval by the town board before it could be built.
Lizza family members had tried to develop the West John Street property in 2003 but the town rejected its proposal.
Ippolito left his job as chief executive of Carlo Lizza & Sons to become the Oyster Bay planning and development commissioner in 2009. In 2011, the Lizzas tried again to get approval to develop the West John Street property, offering to give 50 Engel St., its asphalt plant, to the town for free, according to Singas. In 2012, Ippolito used his control and influence in town government to obtain Town Board approval for rezoning the West John Street property, according to the indictment. And instead of receiving 50 Engel St. from Lizza family companies for free, the town paid $2.5 million for it.
The two properties were owned by several Lizza family members and companies.
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A 2011 appraisal of the property valued 50 Engel St. at $2.48 million. That appraisal stated it did not consider the presence of hazardous substances. Singas said that the town bought the property despite it needing more than $1 million in environmental remediation for which taxpayers would be on the hook.
The indictment alleges that former Town Supervisor John Venditto knew of Ippolito’s relationship with the Lizzas and their payments to him, and concealed that fact while advocating to the Town Board to approve the land deal. Venditto, who also faces federal corruption charges, was charged by Singas with conspiracy, defrauding the government and official misconduct. He pleaded not guilty.
Last year, Frank Antetomaso, a principal of town contractor Sidney B. Bowne & Son LLP, Inc. , and a long time Ippolito associate, allegedly served as an intermediary to arrange for continued payments between Ippolito and the Lizzas. Antetomaso was charged Thursday with conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty.
Cantiague Commons was never built and 50 Engel St., which was supposed to be used for recreation, remains a vacant lot.