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Town of Oyster Bay official Salvatore Cecere acquitted of misconduct, theft charges

Salvatore Cecere arrives at the Nassau County Courthouse

Salvatore Cecere arrives at the Nassau County Courthouse on Sept. 20, 2018 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A judge acquitted Town of Oyster Bay highway maintenance supervisor Salvatore Cecere of corruption charges Friday in a retrial after tossing a 2018 guilty verdict in the case because of jury misconduct.

State Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood found Cecere not guilty of misdemeanor charges of official misconduct and theft of services after a non-jury trial in Mineola, court officials confirmed.

The Nassau district attorney's office had alleged Cecere, 52, of West Sayville, illegally diverted town resources in 2016 to help a friend of his uncle, former town public works commissioner Frank Antetomaso, with a sidewalk repair.

In the first trial, prosecutors alleged Antetomaso called Cecere and asked if the town would repair a friend's sidewalk after a dead tree damaged it.

They said Cecere told Antetomaso on a call caught on a wiretap that a program subsidizing homeowners' costs for sidewalk repairs had ended, but he would handle the work as a favor.

Prosecutors said Cecere then arranged for town workers to do the work, before admitting later there were no special circumstances to justify the town doing the work for free.

But the defense argued in the first trial there were no bribes and no favors, and "nothing other than a worker doing his job." Cecere's attorneys, Joseph Ferri and Craig Rosasco, portrayed him as the victim of overzealous public corruption investigators.

They said in a statement Friday that Cecere "got his good name and reputation back because a fair-minded, neutral judge evaluated the evidence and saw this case for what it was — an investigation in search of a crime."

The "real losers," they added, "are the taxpayers of Nassau County who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the pursuit of a $600 sidewalk case."

But Nassau district attorney's office spokesman Brendan Brosh said prosecutors "disagree strongly with the verdict and with the denial of our request for an adjournment, which prevented an appellate court from ruling on our appeal."

Prosecutors were appealing Wood's decision to toss the first verdict, but a stay in proceedings was denied and a new trial went forward.

Wood found that one juror referred to his own property's sidewalk tripping hazard due to a tree problem during deliberations, introducing "outside information of a significantly similar nature" in order "to undermine at least two defense witnesses."

A jury misconduct probe began after a female juror contacted the defense after the guilty verdict alleging improprieties, adding later in an affidavit she "could not sleep" after surrendering her "sincere belief" that Cecere wasn't guilty.

 The case was one of several District Attorney Madeline Singas brought in 2017 against people with ties to Oyster Bay government, taking aim at what she called "pervasive corruption."

Former Town Supervisor John Venditto pleaded guilty in July in a deal that left him a felon but didn't include jail time.

Venditto's longtime campaign manager Richard Porcelli pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor and got community service and a conditional discharge.

Wood in September acquitted former Oyster Bay Parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino of official misconduct.

Felony charges including bribery remain pending against Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving Inc. owners Elia "Aly" Lizza and his wife, Marisa Lizza. They maintain their innocence.

Antetomaso also faces another misdemeanor charge after the jury that initially convicted his nephew acquitted him of the same offenses. He pleaded not guilty.

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