A judge acquitted former Town of Oyster Bay Parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino Thursday of an official misconduct charge stemming from the reinstatement of a part-time worker accused of drawing a swastika at a Farmingdale park.
The acquittal of Nocerino, 67, of Massapequa, follows the recent guilty pleas of former Town Supervisor John Venditto and his former campaign manager, Richard Porcelli, in connection with the same employment scheme.
Nocerino smiled and hugged his family after hearing the verdict in Nassau County Court more than two years after authorities walked him into the same building in handcuffs along with a handful of others with town ties who were indicted on corruption charges.
“I was not guilty. As all the testimony said, I was taking directions like every other commissioner and the justice system prevailed in my favor,” Nocerino told Newsday. “I didn’t do anything wrong … I hope I get my name back again.”
State Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood said, as he delivered his verdict in the nonjury trial, that while Nocerino acted in a way that showed incompetence, neglect or dereliction of duty, the prosecution hadn’t met its burden of proving he was guilty of a crime.
Oyster Bay, the judge added, “was a model of bad government” at the time.
The prosecution’s star witness in the trial was Stacey Greig, the mother of Gage Doughty, the former parks worker at the center of the case. She also was the one-time fiancee of former Town Planning and Development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito.
He died in federal prison shortly before his indictment on 178 charges stemming from the same wide-ranging corruption investigation by the Nassau District Attorney's Office.
Greig, 49, became a confidential informant for Nassau prosecutors. She secretly recorded conversations with Ippolito and a May 2016 meeting between her son Doughty and Nocerino involving his reinstatement before prosecutors launched a court-authorized wiretap that led to the 2017 Oyster Bay-related indictments.
Greig testified Thursday that she was "terrified" of Ippolito but made a complaint to the district attorney's office about him — including about him threatening, harassing and suing her — and agreed to become an informant because she "wanted to make sure Frederick Ippolito would never harm me or my family."
The witness also said she was interested in trying to get her son's town job back — which happened after she renewed contact with Ippolito in order to carry out her informant duties.
Greig said she was told never to be alone with Ippolito, but that she had a sexual encounter with him at his home anyway because she "was afraid he was going to find out" about her informant role.
"I would have been dead" if that happened, she said.
Prosecutors had accused Nocerino of failing in his duty as someone tasked with the sole authority to hire qualified employees in the parks department by allowing others to make a decision about reinstating Doughty, now 25, to part-time employment hours in 2016. That happened after Doughty reportedly powerwashed a swastika onto town property in 2014 and wasn't given any more hours, according to prosecutors.
They alleged Nocerino acted to benefit Ippolito and also satisfy the wishes of Venditto.
The district attorney's office also said Nocerino told investigators in December 2016 that Venditto ordered Doughty's May 2016 reinstatement, and later his firing that September because Ippolito and Doughty's mother weren't in a relationship anymore.
Defense attorney Christopher Devane argued there was no proof Nocerino knew town code gave him the sole authority to hire department workers and evidence showed only four people in the town had that power: Venditto, Ippolito, Porcelli and Leonard Genova, the town attorney and deputy supervisor.
But prosecutor Jesse Aviram said in his closing argument Nocerino "chose to be part of this corrupt system because it benefitted him," calling him an "accessory" to Venditto and not a "scapegoat" as the defense claimed.
Devane said after the verdict that his client’s name had “been dragged through the mud” since his misdemeanor indictment.
“Every single piece of evidence and every single witness all said the same thing, that the hiring and firing was done by four people, none of whom were named Frank Nocerino. So I’m glad the judge saw that,” he added.
Nassau District Attorney’s Office spokesman Brendan Brosh said prosecutors respect the verdict.