When newly elected Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto took office in 1998 he said he wanted to put a new face on town government.
“I think that people have to let go of the idea that government is corrupt and that politicians do things in their own interests,” Venditto told Newsday as he moved into his supervisor’s office that January. “I’d like to see public service become a noble calling again.”
Venditto was arrested early Thursday by the FBI on federal corruption charges for allegedly soliciting and accepting bribes from restaurateur and former town concessionaire Harendra Singh in return for allegedly helping him obtain town guarantees on $20 million in loans.
Arrested along with Venditto was Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Mangano’s wife, Linda. Edward Mangano, 54, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 67, of North Massapequa, are charged with conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest services fraud, and Mangano is also charged with extortion, officials said.
At their arraignments at federal court in Central Islip, all three pleaded not guilty through their attorneys and were each released on $500,000 bond.
Venditto, a Republican, worked as a private practice lawyer in Massapequa before joining the town board in 1981. Last year Venditto said the late Joseph Colby, who was town supervisor at that time, was “a bit of a mentor to me.”
As a councilman, Venditto was outspoken about preserving the suburban lifestyle and curbing commercial development that could encroach on residents’ quality of life. He left the town board in 1991 to become town attorney and used that position to drive out adult entertainment and strip clubs, saying in 1997 that he focused on building code and zoning violations because they were easier to prove in court than obscenity charges.
In 1998, his first year in office as supervisor, Venditto began the relationship that is at the heart of the federal charges. That year the town entered into an emergency contract with Singh to run food concessions at the town golf course in Syosset. Singh would later pick up other town concessions.
In his early years as supervisor, Venditto boasted that he came into office facing a $30 million deficit and he turned it into a surplus and the town’s bond rating was on an upward trajectory.
He also took credit for pushing bond referendums that preserved land, built parks and public facilities. Seeking to preserve suburban life, he successfully fought a developer that sought to build a mall on the old Cerro Wire site.
When the financial crash of 2008 hit the town’s finances, the town began a massive borrowing program, adding hundreds of millions of dollars of debt in a few years as the town’s credit rating began a rapid slide to junk status this year.
In 2014, when his son, Michael, won election to the State Senate, the victory party was held in Singh’s restaurant H.R. Singletons in Bethpage.
Then in 2015 his commissioner of planning and development, Frederick Ippolito, was arrested on tax evasion charges and Singh’s legal problems began to come to light in a series of Newsday stories. Ippolito was sentenced last month to 27 months in federal prison.
Venditto narrowly won re-election by 99 votes in November against a political unknown.
This year his tight grip on the town board began to loosen and a downgrade by Standard & Poor’s to junk status prompted him to admit that he had made mistakes.
On Thursday, after his arrest, it was unclear who was in charge of Oyster Bay.
“It’s too soon,” spokeswoman Marta Kane said. “Everything is still unraveling . . . He’s still the town supervisor.”