One federal trial down, another to go.
But first, former longtime Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto has to secure the town’s agreement to pay for what promises to be an expensive legal bill for his next trial. The town board, on June 26, officially declined to cover Venditto’s expenses, and on Aug. 8, the former supervisor sued in the Nassau County Supreme Court to force a reversal of the decision.
Having been cleared by a jury of federal corruption charges back on May 24, Venditto next had to prepare to defend himself against a civil complaint from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Under town law, he is entitled to be indemnified by the town in such civil (as opposed to criminal) cases.
In November 2017, the agency charged the town and Venditto with securities fraud, claiming that from January 2010 to December 2016, they made “fraudulent omissions and misrepresentations in failing to disclose to the investing public material information relating to the town’s indirect guarantees of millions of dollars of private bank loans for the benefit of one of the town’s concessionaires.”
In October 2016, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York indicted Venditto and then Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano on numerous bribery and wire fraud charges arising from these loan guarantees, which are illegal under the New York State constitution. Both politicians were accused of taking bribes and kickbacks from the concessionaire Harendra Singh. In return, the government charged, they helped craft agreements to guarantee more than $20 million in private loans Singh sought to make capital improvements to the town’s golf course and beach concessions he had secured.
Of the 27 federal charges against Venditto, 21 were related to the securities fraud.
The securities charges in the Eastern District indictment mirrored those of the SEC, and the SEC trial was delayed until the 11-week criminal trial in the U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip ran its course. When the jury announced its verdict, it unanimously cleared Venditto of all charges, including the 21 securities fraud counts.
Marc Agnifilo of the Manhattan law firm Brafman & Associates had successfully represented the former Oyster Bay supervisor in the criminal trial, and soon after the SEC charges were announced, Agnifilo sent a copy of the complaint to the Oyster Bay Office of Town Attorney, with a request that the town provide for Venditto’s defense.
On June 20, Brafman & Associates sent a letter with the proposed rates for the defense: Agnifilo ($850/hour), Joshua Kirshner, an associate ($650/hour), with the same rate for an additional associate if necessary, plus a paralegal ($175/hour).
In a memo to the town board, Town Attorney Joseph Nocella recommended that the town authorize a resolution (subsequently No. 441) at its June 26 town board meeting to retain Brafman & Associates to represent the former supervisor. The resolution included a $50,000 payment for legal services it had already done for Venditto.
The town attorneys, in a memo in support of Resolution No. 441, argued that under several provisions of Town Code §22, Venditto qualified as a former and current employee of the town, having held the office of supervisor from January 1998 through Jan. 4, 2017. In addition, §22-2 asserts that the town “shall provide for the defense of the employee in any civil action or proceeding in any state or federal court arising out of any alleged act or omission which occurred or is alleged in the complaint to have occurred while the employee was exercising or performing, or, in good faith, purporting to exercise or perform his powers and duties within the scope of his public employment.”
The memo also noted that, due to the complexity of the case, the town cannot provide for the defense “through ‘in-house’ counsel.”
It concluded that Venditto was “entitled to representation by counsel of his choosing and that such counsel’s reasonable attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses shall be paid by the town.”
At the subsequent June 26 meeting, the only comments on Resolution 441 came from members of the public; trustees, in light on the lawsuit their vote was likely to trigger, were advised not to make any statements.
Supervisor Joseph Saladino and trustees Lou Imbroto, Michelle Johnson and Thomas Hand voted against the resolution. Joseph Muscarella was the lone “aye” vote. Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia abstained from voting and Councilman Anthony Macagnone recused himself.
The Article 78 lawsuit declared the town board’s actions, “arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the Town Code…and Public Officer’s Law, State of New York” and sought the “Reversing, annulling and setting aside the determination and Resolution No. 441” and ordering the town board “to provide for the retention of Venditto’s counsel, and to pay said counsel’s reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses incurred in the defense of the case.”