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Board rules ex-Smithtown attorney John Zollo violated ethics code

John Zollo, former Smithtown town attorney, could face

John Zollo, former Smithtown town attorney, could face misdemeanor charges after a Board of Ethics ruling determined he violated the town's ethics code. Photo Credit: Newsday/Lauren R. Harrison

Former Smithtown town attorney John Zollo could face misdemeanor charges after a Board of Ethics ruling determined he violated the town's ethics code.

According to the May 5 ruling, Zollo, 54, of Smithtown, improperly appeared before the zoning board shortly after he was terminated in January. If penalties are pursued, Zollo could also be subject to a fine, according to town code. It is unclear who would prosecute the violation, town officials said.

Zollo spoke at a hearing before the Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals on Jan. 14 -- a week after he was ousted by the town board in a 3-2 vote.

In a recent interview, Zollo said he was not representing the applicant but was explaining the basis of the applicant's zoning request, because Zollo had represented the seller of the property involved and the applicant did not have an attorney present.

"I was just trying to help out, and it's typical that no good deed goes unpunished," he said. "The complaint that was lodged was ridiculous . . . I respect the board's decision, but I disagree with them."

Most recently, Zollo was town attorney from 2012 until his ouster. He also held the post from 1992 to 2002.

The ethics code prohibits town officers or employees from representing "directly or indirectly any private interest, person or entity before any Town board or any court" involving the town. It also states that no former town worker can "appear before any board or agency of the Town of Smithtown in relation to any matter or proceeding which was commenced or pending during his or her employment for a period of two years from the date of termination."

The decision, which was obtained by Newsday via a May 5 letter to the complainant, David Ambro, of The Smithtown News, said the "word 'appear' . . . should be interpreted broadly to include both direct representation of clients before boards and agencies, as well as indirect appearances to advocate or speak for others who are directly appearing," wrote ethics board member Steven L. Sarisohn.

Sarisohn declined to comment further. Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio also declined to comment.In 2007, the ethics board ruled that former Smithtown Councilwoman Joanne Gray pay a $3,500 fine for using town resources to send out a political mailing while still in office.

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