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Judge on Ippolito case: ‘Something rotten in Oyster Bay’

Former Town of Oyster Bay planning commissioner, Fred

Former Town of Oyster Bay planning commissioner, Fred Ippolito, in wheelchair, enters federal court in Central Islip on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Credit: James Carbone

A federal judge yesterday postponed the sentencing of the former Oyster Bay planning and development commissioner for income tax evasion, saying “there is something rotten” in the town and he wants answers to his questions about the case.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler said he was delaying the sentencing of Fred Ippolito until Aug. 23 and was considering increasing the sentence recommended under the plea deal Ippolito has with the government.

Ippolito, 77, of Syosset, was indicted last year on six counts of evading taxes on $2 million he had received in consulting fees between 2008 and 2013 from Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, of Old Bethpage, as well from a Lizza family trust. The once influential Republican politician in Oyster Bay and Nassau County, a former longtime Lizza employee and a consultant for Lizza while working for the town, pleaded guilty in January to a count of tax evasion and agreed to a prison term of 18 to 24 months, officials have said.

But Wexler said he might go beyond that sentence.

“I have never in my 33 years, as long as I’ve been a judge, gone beyond the maximum,” Wexler said. “But there is something rotten in the town of Oyster Bay and this court wants to know what’s going on.” The judge said he was “totally confused and wants answers and I’m sure the people of Oyster Bay want answers too.”

Wexler said he wants to know whether payments the Lizza company made to Ippolito influenced how the town awarded paving contracts and what control he had over those contracts. The judge noted that federal prosecutors Catherine Mirabile and Raymond Tierney said the Lizza company has received millions of dollars in town paving contracts.

Wexler said he also wanted to know what Ippolito had done with the $2 million since he now says he cannot afford to pay the taxes owed. “The judge wants answers, we intend to give them to him,” said Ippolito’s attorney, Brian Griffin of Garden City, afterward.

Later he said in a statement: “All of the [consulting] work that Mr. Ippolito did for the Lizza family was fully disclosed and completely lawful. To be clear, Mr. Ippolito did not award nor oversee any of the contract work the Lizza company performed for the town during his tenure as Commissioner.”

John Carman of Garden City, the attorney for the Lizza company and its CEO Elia Lizza, said in a statement that Wexler’s concerns “are understandable.”

“He would have had no reason to know that Mr. Ippolito worked for my client’s company during two periods in the last 25 years, most recently from 2002 until 2009. Beyond his employment, Mr. Ippolito was responsible for a wide range of real estate, business and estate matters involving the Lizza family. To the extent that the relationship continued after Mr. Ippolito went to work at the town, the consulting relationship and the payments were all properly and publicly disclosed.”

Ippolito listed his employment as a consultant in his town disclosure form.

Carman said he could not immediately provide records of the company’s contract dealings with the town.

Oyster Bay Town spokeswoman Marta Kane, would only say in a statement: “The Town has cooperated in this investigation and will continue to do so.” Kane added that the town also could not immediately respond to a request by Newsday for similar records.

Before the postponement, Ippolito’s attorney had asked that his client be sentenced to probation, given his age and what he said was his poor health.

Ippolito, who entered the courtroom in Central Islip in a wheelchair, stood when he addressed the judge. “I have tried to live a decent and honorable life and obviously I have made some mistakes and in this instance I have done wrong,” Ippolito said. “My only request is that you judge me, not just my wrong, but by the totality of my 77 years.”

The plea agreement called for Ippolito to pay back taxes on the money which prosecutors estimated could be $548,000. The money Ippolito received was paid by a Lizza company member who has not been identified or charged, after an Internal Revenue Service investigation.

Ippolito was Oyster Bay building and planning commissioner from 1978 to 1987, and worked for Lizza & Sons until 2009, when he returned to the town before resigning in January.

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