Former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, 72, was indicted on Thursday on charges of conspiracy involving former Oyster Bay Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito, and Elia Lizza, 69, and his wife Marisa Lizza, 61, of Oyster Bay Cove, owners of Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving. Ippolito died in federal custody on June 4.
During a press conference on Thursday, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said a 14-month investigation uncovered $1.6 million in bribes paid to Ippolito from the Lizzas to facilitate the development of a proposed $150 million senior housing complex called Cantiague Commons on land owned by the Lizza family.
Venditto, a Republican of Massapequa, was charged with two counts of defrauding the government, a Class E felony, two counts of official misconduct, and conspiracy in the fifth degree. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.
These are on top of charges he is already facing from the illegal hiring and firing of an Oyster Bay employee, and a federal public corruption indictment stemming from a 2016 case involving Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and his wife, Linda.
After leaving his government job in 1997, Ippolito worked as a consultant. His clients included Carlo Lizza & Sons paving in Old Bethpage. The company received $100 million in government contracts, including tens of millions for work in Oyster Bay.
To move forward with their plan for Cantiague Commons, the Lizzas needed for the Hicksville property to be rezoned from commercial to residential. The request was initially denied by the town board in 2003. But once Ippolito returned to work for the town in 2009 as its commissioner of planning and development, things soon changed.
Venditto oversaw a town board meeting on Dec. 18, 2012, in which he and Ippolito advocated for a series of resolutions to authorize the purchase of the Lizza’s asphalt plant for $2.5 million and to create a new zoning district for the proposed Cantiague Commons. This purchase put the multi-million-dollar deal on the backs of Oyster Bay taxpayers.
“We allege that not only did Ippolito give his approval and recommendation to the board to pass the rezoning, he did so while failing to disclose his personal business and financial interest in the project,” said Singas.
The property was deemed blighted, containing five 10,000 -gallon underground oil tanks — two of which were found to be leaking.
Previously in 2011, Venditto had said that any environmental issues would be remediated before the town took control of the property. But according to the investigation, Venditto signed a contract stating that the property had not been fully remediated and that the full extent of its contamination was unknown.
And the sweetheart deal contained a provision limiting the seller's liability for environmental remediation to $100,000, “even though one firm had already estimated the cleanup at $1.3 million,” Singas added.
The Lizzas allegedly bribed Ippolito for approximately $2 million, which the investigation discovered in the form of funds transferred from the Lizza’s paving account to their personal account, and then in checks written to Ippolito between 2009 and 2016.
Singas said the payments also corresponded to the actions taken by the town, which demonstrated efforts to obscure the source of the funds.
The investigation also revealed that Frank Antetomasso, 77, of Massapequa, was used by Ippolito as a secret intermediary with the Lizzas. Antetomasso, was a former Oyster Bay commissioner of public works and an executive at Sidney Bowne & Son, a consulting firm that worked with the Lizzas and received contracts from the town.
He faces additional charges after also allegedly directing his nephew, Salvatore Cecere, 50, a highway supervisor, to remove a tree and repair a sidewalk for a friend for free. Cecere, of West Sayville, agreed to do so.
Ippolito conducted meetings with the Lizzas on government property, Singas said. And town employees drafted contracts while at work for a variety of agreements involving the Lizzas with the goal to ensure that they acquired $22 million from the deal.
Ippolito continued to receive the bribes, the DA said, even after his federal indictment for tax evasion, which involved the Lizzas’ business in 2015. However, this time the funds were issued to his snow removal company.
Search warrants by the district attorney’s office uncovered Ippolito’s records, revealing that the Lizzas had never paid for a snow removal service. They had in fact, had their driveway plowed for free.
“It’s troubling that these officials, in every transaction that we saw, the conversations that we heard, their sole purpose was effectuating this deal for themselves for their friends, and the interest of the taxpayers was never considered,” Singas said.
The Lizzas are being charged with 14 counts of bribery in the second degree, a Class C felony, five counts of bribery in the third degree, a Class D felony, 18 counts of rewarding official misconduct in the second degree, a Class E felony, two counts of defrauding the government, a Class E felony, and conspiracy in the fifth degree.
In addition, Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving Inc., is charged with five counts of bribery in the second degree, a Class C felony, five counts of bribery in the third degree, a Class D felony, four counts of rewarding official misconduct in the second degree, a Class E felony, two counts of defrauding the government, a Class E felony, and conspiracy in the fifth degree. If convicted, the Lizzas could face up to 15 years in prison.
Antetomasso has been charged with conspiracy in the fifth degree and one count of official misconduct and theft of services. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison.
Cecere has been charged with one count each of official misconduct and theft of services. If convicted, he faces up to one year in prison.
All the defendants pleaded not guilty and were released on their own recognizance. They are due back in court on Sept. 26.