Former Supervisor John Venditto, of Massapequa, 70, pleaded guilty today in Nassau County Court before Westchester Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood to charges stemming from two Nassau County cases, including the corrupt use of his position or authority, a felony, and a misdemeanor for official misconduct.
He received a conditional discharge, meaning he will not serve probation, jail time or pay fines as long as he doesn’t get into any additional trouble with the law for the next three years. Venditto could have been sentenced to four years in prison.
After an 11-week-long federal trial, Venditto, who faced multiple charges of bribery and corruption, was acquitted on May 23, 2018. But this did not free him from the state charges.
“Taxpayers at all levels of government deserve public officials who prioritize the well-being of the public over self-gain,” said State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat, from Huntington. “Former Supervisor Venditto's admission of public corruption shines a light on the culture of corruption that has plagued Town of Oyster Bay residents, with the real losers being the 300,000 taxpayers stuck paying this 'corruption Tax.'"
In court, Venditto appearing relieved, admitted that he was guilty of preferential government hiring, a felony, when in 2016 as supervisor “during a fiscal crisis” he hired a part-time employee at an inflated salary in the Parks Department to help his friend, former Oyster Bay planning commissioner Frederick Ippolito, who later requested that the employee be fired. Ippolito died in federal prison in June 2017, while serving time for tax evasion.
Venditto also said he was guilty of the misdemeanor when during 2011 and 2012 as supervisor he “advocated for approval” of zoning applications to build Cantiague Commons, a senior housing complex. Venditto said he was aware that Ippolito had a financial interest in the zoning application.
For Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, the plea is personal. He has worked hard since taking office to regain the trust of residents, he said.
“This marks the end of a dark chapter in the town’s history, which is associated with the past,” Saladino said. “My administration has a zero-tolerance policy for corruption. We took action last year to successfully recoup all money from issues of the past and continue to pursue money from those who defrauded the town under the previous administration.”
Venditto was indicted on June 29, 2017, 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.
District Attorney Madeline Singas said in June 2017 that the 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. The complex was never built.
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.
In order to move forward with their plans to build Cantiague Commons, the Lizzas needed for the Hicksville property to be rezoned from commercial to residential use, a request that 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 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.
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 Singas’s investigation, Venditto signed a contract stating that the property had not been fully remediated and that the full extent of its contamination was unknown.
The 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 roughly $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.
Bob Freier, the spokesman for the Town of Oyster Bay Democrats, was frequently at town board meetings when Venditto was the supervisor, speaking often during the public sessions. “Venditto will be remembered as a person who abused the trust of the people who put him in office,” Freier said. “Pleading guilty doesn’t mean he’s innocent by any means. People will remember that he was charged with corruption, federally and state-wise, and he got lucky twice.”
Danielle Agoglia contributed to this story.