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OpinionEditorial

Oyster Bay indictments reveal a betrayal of trust

Taxes are high on Long Island. Some of that may be because the powerful steal from the taxpayers. Worse, they steal our trust.

Former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto

Former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto is brought into the Nassau County Courthouse on Thursday, June 29, 2017 in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The allegations of bribes and misconduct contained in three indictments brought by the Nassau County district attorney against Town of Oyster Bay officials and their associates are all the more infuriating because they are not surprising. They portray the everyday dishonesty that is corroding our respect for government. We now expect politicians to be crooks.

In January 2016, former town Planning and Development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito pleaded guilty to a federal charge of evading taxes on $2 million in “consulting fees” he received from the owners of a prominent paving company while also working for Oyster Bay.

Ippolito got paid the money by companies and a trust controlled by the Lizza family, which had been paid tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for its services. The pressing and unanswered question was why the town contractor paid him the money. Now we may have some answers, if District Attorney Madeline Signas has the evidence to support the charges.

Elia Lizza, the CEO of Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving Inc., along with his wife, Marisa Lizza, both pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of conspiracy and multiple counts of defrauding the government, felony bribery and rewarding official misconduct.

The main indictment alleges that Lizzas won town work by offering lower bids than any other company could. They allegedly did this on assurances that Ippolito would later approve more spending, including dollars that would be kicked back to Ippolito: more than 100 checks totaling the $2 million from the Lizzas’ own bank account after depositing funds from the company.

According to the district attorney, plenty of other crimes went down as well, due to a culture in which powerful people manipulated town government for their own gain and treated the rights of town employees as meaningless. The Lizzas are accused of bribing officials to make the town overpay for land in Hicksville and change zoning for the Lizzas’ own enrichment.

Town employees allegedly were given raises or fired for reasons having nothing to do with performance. Several were let go just to camouflage the persecution of another worker Ippolito wanted to get rid of. Ippolito, who died June 4 at age 78, a few weeks after he reported to prison on the federal tax evasion charge, is even accused of accepting sexual favors last year in exchange for raises and jobs.

Former 10-term town Supervisor John Venditto appears to have done Ippolito’s bidding. He, former public works Commissioner Frank Antetomaso and town highway employee Salvatore Cecere are all accused of abusing their offices and cheating taxpayers. Richard Porcelli Sr., Venditto’s campaign manager, also was charged, another reminder of the hazards of money and politics. All pleaded not guilty.

The Oyster Bay indictments should prompt the investigation of municipal contracts and political donors. The Lizzas have done more than $100 million in paving for Nassau County since 2002.

Taxes are high enough on Long Island, and some of that may be because the powerful steal from the taxpayers. Worse, they steal our trust. 

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