The chief financial officer of a prominent family-owned Long Island heating and air conditioning contracting company confessed Wednesday to stealing more than $10 million from the West Babylon business, officials said.
Joseph Simonelli, 55, is a top executive of the F.W. Sims Co., which has installed heating and air conditioning equipment at 1 World Trade Center and Yankee Stadium.
He made the admission to federal agents Wednesday who had arrested him on a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, said Eastern District prosecutor Charles Rose at Simonelli's arraignment Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip.
Simonelli, who has a home in Calverton and a horse farm in Riverhead, faces 11 to 14 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines if he is convicted, officials said. After the arraignment -- where a family rift in the company between Simonelli and his relatives was laid bare -- U.S. Magistrate A. Kathleen Tomlinson ordered him held without bail as a danger to the community.
Tomlinson first ruled that Simonelli could be released Wednesday on bail supported by his home and horse farm. She changed her mind after Rose and company attorney Robert LaRusso told her Simonelli had threatened his relatives. Top company officials include a brother and three sisters, company attorneys said.
LaRusso and another company attorney, Joseph Conway, said the embezzlement total may run to more than $25 million when an inspection of the firm's books is done. The Mineola attorneys stressed the company was operational and the looted money was profit. The company's work on 1 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan alone was worth $120 million, the attorneys said.
To embezzle the money, Simonelli set up a scheme with fictitious companies that Sims supposedly owed payments, court papers said. He would funnel the money to them, at times through an unnamed law firm, according to the complaint.
The scheme began to unravel in October when a relative of Simonelli discovered Sims' checks made out to companies he had not heard of, court papers said.
Two of Simonelli's sisters arrived at court Wednesday with bodyguards. One sister, Lilly Ann Simonelli Wiswall, testified that her brother had a "history of violence when he doesn't get what he wants . . . I'm not vindictive, but fearful," adding that Joseph Simonelli physically abused and threatened her.
Wiswall acknowledged to her brother's defense attorney, Randi Chavis, that she did not have witnesses to back up many of her claims.
Rose noted that in a taped conversation, Simonelli threatened a relative saying that he "could show up, pop . . . [the relative] in the . . . head, and walk away . . . and never . . . go to jail . . . no one even knows I got the . . . gun."