Longtime Hempstead Town Board member Edward Ambrosino is asking that the most serious criminal federal charge against him be dismissed, claiming the government is turning an ordinary business dispute into a federal crime.
Ambrosino, 52, of North Valley Stream, was charged with wire fraud and income tax evasion in March after prosecutors said FBI investigators and the Internal Revenue Service found that Ambrosino — who specializes in economic and industrial development and financing — failed to forward $800,000 of his $1.3 million in earnings from two county agencies to his former Uniondale law firm, which was not named in the indictment. Multiple sources identified the firm as Ruskin Moscou Faltischek.
Ambrosino pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In recently filed court papers, Ambrosino’s attorney, James Druker, of Garden City, asked that the wire fraud count be thrown out on the grounds that the situation was not criminal but a run-of-the-mill civil business dispute about compensation.
But Eastern District federal prosecutors Catherine Mirabile and Raymond Tierney said in the indictment that Ambrosino was obligated to pass all those earnings onto the firm and receive a small percentage of it back as compensation.
The prosecutors said he failed to turn over to his law firm the $800,000 he earned between 2013 and 2015 as general counsel for two Nassau County agencies — the Industrial Development Agency and the Local Economic Assistance Corp.
Instead, Ambrosino set up a complex scheme, involving a shell company, to siphon the money off and pocket it, the prosecutors said.
These disputes occur “a million times a day” and Congress never intended them to be turned into wire fraud, Druker said Monday.
Druker also argued in the court papers that the law firm was not entitled to the money because other members of the firm practiced before the Nassau agencies and that would constitute a conflict of interest.
Ambrosino “saved them from themselves,” Druker said in a telephone interview.
Druker’s court papers did not respond to the tax charges which accuse Ambrosino of failing to pay more than $250,000 in federal income taxes — most of which came from his work for the county agencies.
Wire fraud carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison; income tax evasion up to five years, plus payment of the back taxes.
A spokesperson for Ruskin, Katherine Heaviside, said in a statement: “ Since this is an ongoing legal issue, we are not able to comment on it.”
John Marzulli, a spokesman for Eastern District prosecutors, declined to comment.