Good Morning
Good Morning

Oyster Bay planning chief should step down

Former Town of Oyster Bay planning commissioner, Fred

Former Town of Oyster Bay planning commissioner, Fred Ippolito, in wheelchair, leaves federal court in Central Islip on Tuesday with his lawyer Brian J. Griffin, on Jan. 26, 2016. Ippolito plead guility to tax fraud. Credit: James Carbone

The “Oyster Bay way” has gone way too far toward corruption and incompetence. Town of Oyster Bay commissioner of planning and development Frederick Ippolito pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of tax evasion, a felony, admitting he avoided paying taxes on $2 million in income.

Yesterday, he still held his town job.

It should be obvious that failing to pay taxes on $2 million is reason enough for a public official to lose his job, even if, as Ippolito’s attorney said, “This plea is in no way connected to Mr. Ippolito’s role as a public official, nor does it impact his years of dedication and service to the public.”

It doesn’t matter. Ippolito has agreed to pay the taxes, estimated at $548,000, and serve 18 to 24 months in prison as part of his plea deal. His infraction is serious enough to cost him his job and reputation, even if the crime were somehow divorced from the town. And at least in terms of the smell test, that isn’t the case.

The $2 million in “consulting fees” came from Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, where Ippolito was employed until he joined the town in 2009, and the Lizza Family Trust. Lizza has received millions of dollars in contracts from Oyster Bay, including while Ippolito has been in his current position.

Asked in a meeting with Newsday’s editorial board in October why Lizza would have to pay Ippolito that money, Town Supervisor John Venditto said he didn’t know. It’s a question a town supervisor should ask of an employee and share with the taxpayers, but Venditto has other things on his mind. His town, long known for governance that was chummy and archaic but also competent and fiscally responsible, has been unmasked as extravagant, irresponsible and financially reeling.

Investigators from the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn have their sights on more than just Ippolito in Oyster Bay, and their investigations seem to be affecting town management. Restaurateur and town vendor Harendra Singh has been charged with bribing a deputy town attorney, Frederick Mei, to put the town’s full faith and credit behind loans for his company. Mei has not been charged, but has resigned. His boss, town attorney Leonard Genova, somehow still has his job.

Oyster Bay’s debt has more than quadrupled to almost $900 million since Venditto took office in 1998. Per person, the town owes three times as much as Babylon and twice as much as North Hempstead. It consistently runs budget deficits. It had to pierce the state’s property tax cap with 8.8 percent increases for both 2014 and 2015. The town suffered at least eight credit-rating downgrades in the past few years. And Moody’s Investors Service withdrew its rating entirely this week, saying the town failed to provide audited financial information. The town says that’s because it hasn’t figured out a computer system it installed 25 months ago, a claim that’s been met with cynicism.

Residents deserve to know immediately what Ippolito did to earn $2 million from a town contractor. Hopefully the feds will speed their inquiries, so we can know by how far the Oyster Bay way became the wrong way.