A judge has refused to dismiss state corruption charges against former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, ruling evidence presented to a grand jury was "legally sufficient" to support the indictments against him.
Venditto, 69, of North Massapequa, pleaded not guilty in June 2017 to 10 criminal charges that include two felony counts of defrauding the government and another felony count of corrupt use of position. The longtime GOP power broker also denied misdemeanor offenses of official misconduct and conspiracy.
The state charges followed an investigation by Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office into alleged corruption in Oyster Bay’s government that also led to the indictments of several others with connections to the town — all of whom maintain their innocence.
State Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood, who is presiding over the corruption cases, also recently ruled for the prosecution in decisions involving the other defendants. He refused to toss their indictments while considering the evidence “in the light most favorable” to the government — as required at this stage.
“The decisions speak for themselves,” Singas spokesman Brendan Brosh said Friday.
In May, Venditto won an acquittal in a separate federal corruption case. His attorneys, Joshua Kirshner and Marc Agnifilo, referenced that case Friday when addressing Wood’s decision from Wednesday to preserve the indictments against Venditto.
“While we were hoping for a better result … the decision was not unexpected. It is merely a preliminary judgment that there was enough evidence presented to a grand jury to move forward in the case,” the attorneys said. “When all of the evidence is before a jury, we are confident that Mr. Venditto will be entirely vindicated — precisely what happened in the federal case.”
Prosecutors have alleged Venditto took part in a conspiracy with former town Planning and Development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito, now deceased, to accept bribes from the owners of Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving Inc., a town contractor. The object of the alleged conspiracy was to gain approval to rezone a property called Cantiague Commons, and advance the sale of an asphalt plant, Wood wrote in his decision.
But Venditto’s attorneys have argued that their client got nothing of value out of the alleged conspiracy.
The defense also argued Venditto gained no personal benefit and was not aware of any potential benefit to Ippolito that would result from an alleged conspiracy involving the town firing a particular employee — another part of the allegations.
In his rulings, the judge also denied a motion from attorneys for Venditto, along with paving company owners Elia Lizza, 71, and his wife, Marisa Lizza, 63, both of Oyster Bay Cove, to move the case outside Nassau County to ensure a fair trial.
Marisa Lizza’s attorney, Marc Gann, said Friday he was “still very confident she’ll be exonerated.”
Attorney John Carman, who also represents the Lizzas — who face multiple bribery counts among other charges — said they were “steadfast in their belief that their names will be cleared.”
The others facing charges are: Frank Antetomaso, 78, the town’s former Public Works commissioner; his nephew, Salvatore Cecere, 51, a town highway official; Frank Nocerino, 66, the town’s former Public Safety deputy commissioner, and Richard Porcelli Sr., 71, Venditto’s longtime campaign manager.
Attorneys for Cecere and Nocerino declined to comment.
Porcelli’s lawyer, Francis Casale Jr., said his client was not a town employee but still faces official misconduct charges, and it appeared the judge had broadened the definition of a public official “beyond statute.”
Antetomaso’s attorney, Nancy Bartling, said the ruling against dismissing her client's charges “doesn’t change the facts,” adding: “We plan to try this case and are confident we will prevail.”