Under pressure from Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, Oyster Bay commissioner Frederick Ippolito stepped down Thursday, two days after he pleaded guilty to a federal felony.
Ippolito, who served as the town’s planning and development commissioner since 2009, pleaded guilty to one felony count of income tax evasion, admitting in federal court Tuesday that he knowingly submitted a false tax return.
“We can’t have people in positions of authority and in positions of public trust that are convicted felons,” Singas said in an interview Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Singas sent a letter to Town Supervisor John Venditto saying that Ippolito’s continued employment violated state law. Going one step further, she told him that “any public officer” could be committing the crime of official misconduct if he refused to remove Ippolito.
Several hours later, she said in the interview, Oyster Bay’s town counsel “did respond and say that Mr. Ippolito’s position is now vacant in response to the letter.”
Venditto, who did not publicly comment in the aftermath of Ippolito’s guilty plea and also declined to be interviewed Thursday, issued a statement late in the day.
“Pursuant to New York State public officers law Section 30, the office of the Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development is vacant,” Venditto’s statement said.
Singas said she acted after hearing reports that the town was reviewing Ippolito’s plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office while he remained working for town. On Wednesday, town spokesman Brian Devine said a decision about Ippolito’s employment status would not be made while that review was underway.
Federal prosecutors charged Ippolito in March with six counts of tax evasion for failing to report $2 million in income received from Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, a town contractor based in Old Bethpage, as well as from an unidentified Lizza family member from 2008 to 2013. He pleaded guilty to one charge of tax evasion from 2008, when he was working for Lizza.
His attorney, Brian Griffin, of Garden City, said Tuesday that his guilty plea was not connected to his work for the town. But Singas in the interview said that didn’t matter.
“There’s no discretion involved there,” Singas said. “You can’t decide whether to do it or not. The law dictates that upon conviction you must vacate the position, period.”
Ippolito’s employment by the town in the days after his guilty plea created a rare split in the all-Republican town board. Councilmen Anthony Macagnone and Joseph Pinto immediately called for his resignation while the four other board members did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Robert Freier, a Democrat who ran for town board last year, said Venditto failed the public by not removing Ippolito immediately.
“It shows his lack of leadership and lack of interest in the public that he serves,” Freier said.
Michael Dawidziak, a Sayville-based political consultant, said allowing Ippolito to stay on looked bad to voters.
“Now it looks like the decision has been forced upon you by law enforcement,” Dawidziak said.
Ippolito faces up to 2 years in prison and federal prosecutors say he owes $548,000. His sentencing date has not been set.
Singas, a Democrat, said she was happy the town chose to follow the law.
“In this climate of corruption and climate of people feeling that public officials are using their tax dollars to line their own pockets, and this feeling of complete distrust of government, it’s imperative that the law is followed and people have faith in government,” she said.