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Judge puts housing discrimination case in Oyster Bay on hold

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, leaves federal

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, leaves federal court in Central Islip on Oct. 20, 2016 after being released on $500,000 bail. Credit: James Carbone

A federal judge has put a housing discrimination case against the Town of Oyster Bay on hold until a separate criminal case involving alleged corruption by Town Supervisor John Venditto is resolved.

The U.S. attorney’s office requested the stay.

“A stay of this action, will . . . ensure the integrity of the criminal proceeding, and protect Mr. Venditto’s Fifth Amendment rights,” assistant U.S. attorneys Michael Goldberger and Sean Greene wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to U.S. District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt, who granted the stay last month.

The U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 sued the town and Venditto, alleging that the preferences Oyster Bay gives to residents and their children for two housing programs discriminate against African-Americans.

African-Americans make up less than 1 percent of town residents eligible for the programs, which offer below-market-rate housing for seniors and first-time home buyers, the government said in legal filings. That contributed to no black residents in any of the 58 first-time-buyer units and very few in more than 1,400 senior-housing units, court documents filed in 2014 state.

Venditto denies the policies are racially discriminatory and says that the programs were created so local seniors and first-time home buyers could afford to remain in Oyster Bay near family and friends.

Under the program, developers are allowed to build denser housing in exchange for lower sale prices.

In October, federal prosecutors charged Venditto with conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice.

Venditto announced Tuesday afternoon that he is resigning as supervisor, effective Wednesday afternoon. Nellin McIntosh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, declined to comment on what effect, if any, his resignation would have on the case.

Goldberger and Greene wrote that, because both the criminal and civil cases appear to involve Venditto’s conduct as supervisor, interviews with Venditto and other witnesses in the discrimination case could “unwittingly implicate issues in the criminal case.”

Attorneys for Venditto supported the government’s request for a stay. They stated in a letter that Venditto’s criminal indictment would make it more difficult to find an impartial jury in the discrimination case, and that it would provide a distraction that could “compromise the Town’s ability to mount an effective defense in the unrelated civil action.”

Spokesmen for the U.S. attorney’s office and the town declined to comment beyond what is in the letters.

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