Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Long Island paving firm owner sentenced for bribing Oyster Bay commissioner

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The owner of a prominent Long Island paving company has been sentenced to three years of conditional discharge after pleading guilty to bribing an Oyster Bay commissioner to help facilitate the building of a senior housing complex in Hicksville.

Elia “Aly” Lizza, 72, of Oyster Bay Cove, pleaded guilty in January to a felony bribery charge. Lizza paid $350,000 to settle a civil forfeiture action brought against him in addition to the discharge sentence, the Nassau County district attorney’s office said Tuesday. Prosecutors had recommended he serve at least a year in prison.

Under the terms of his release, the case against Lizza could be restored — and he could be re-sentenced on the underlying case — if he’s arrested for another crime in the next three years.

Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, a defunct paving company owned by Lizza, was also sentenced to a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to a felony bribery charge. Frank Antetomaso, 80, of Massapequa, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a disorderly conduct violation in the case, and a case against Lizza’s 65-year-old wife, Marisa, was dismissed the same day. She was exculpated when Elia Lizza pleaded guilty, prosecutors said.

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Madeline Singas, the district attorney, said the case exposed a “brazen pay-to-play culture” in the Town of Oyster Bay government, including bribery, “rampant nepotism” and unlawful favors for friends and family of those in power.

“Elia Lizza — a wealthy business owner and now a convicted felon — was an active participant in that corrupt TOBAY system and bribed a government official to secure a multi-million-dollar property deal to develop senior housing in Hicksville,” Singas said. “This investigation exposed how a dysfunctional government in Oyster Bay benefited crooked contractors and local officials, while honest taxpayers and business owners who played by the rules were shut out.”

Elia Lizza served as president of the paving company and issued about $1.6 million in checks from 2009 to 2016 from personal accounts to Frederick Ippolito, the town’s planning and development commissioner, prosecutors said. The payments were for Ippolito’s role in negotiating expected payments of more than $20 million dollars to Lizza from the developer of Cantiague Commons, a $150 million residential housing complex for seniors. Ippolito simultaneously controlled the oversight of the developer’s rezoning application and site plan approval.

The complex needed the Town Board’s approval to rezone the property, which was only zoned for light industrial, for residential use. As the planning and development head Ippolito wielded substantial control and influence over potential real estate developments.

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Ippolito negotiated the sale of an Engel Street property to the town to further facilitate the housing complex deal, prosecutors said, and Lizza’s paving company operated an asphalt plant at the same address, located near the proposed development. Because it was too close to the asphalt plant, the town would not approve the re-zoning application for Cantiague Commons.

Ippolito used town workers and resources to draft deals among Elia Lizza and other family members, prosecutors said. He and former Supervisor John Venditto advocated to the town board on Lizza’s behalf in connection with the application, and did not disclose Ippolito’s financial interest in the project, authorities said.

In December 2012, the town board conditionally granted the rezoning application.

Ippolito recommended the board authorize the rezoning of the property on West John Street in Hicksville and did not disclose his financial interest in Cantiague Commons, prosecutors said. He worked closely with the Lizza family and their contractors to develop the property to ensure that Elia Lizza received more than $20 million dollars, authorities said.

He did not report the Lizza payments, nor additional payments from before his employment with the town, to the IRS. He was indicted in 2015, at which point Elia Lizza and Ippolito stopped communicating directly.

Antetomaso, a former town official and principal of the engineering firm that was working on the Cantiague Commons project, was accused of passing messages between the two.

Prosecutors said the payments to Ippolito came from a bank account belonging to Lizza’s paving company and were then sent through Lizza’s personal checking account.

Ippolito pleaded guilty in 2016 to a federal tax evasion charge and was sentenced to over two years in prison. He died the following year.

Last year, Venditto pleaded guilty to felony corruption and misdemeanor official misconduct.

All but 40 counts out of over 200 were dismissed as having been abated by Ippolito’s death, prosecutors said. Lizza was allowed to plead to one count — the most serious charge if 2nd-degree bribery — in the interest of judicial economy.

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