Supervisor John Venditto led the Town of Oyster Bay’s regular meeting last week with no announcement regarding his status at the helm of the town board.
When pressed by a resident about whether or not taxpayers are footing the bill for his legal fees, the supervisor assured him and all residents that it is “a personal expense.” Venditto pleaded not guilty last month to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice in connection with millions of dollars of loan guarantees to town restaurateur Harendra Singh.
Venditto was not available for comment after the meeting and will not be providing a statement, according to town spokeswoman Marta Kane.
Town resident Robert Freier, who had asked the supervisor about his legal fees, also requested information from the board regarding deposits made to the town-owned Woodlands catering hall, which was operated by Singh. After charges against Singh came to light, the town transferred operations of the Woodlands to an investor group led by Ravi Chopra. But soon, the town sent out requests for proposal to caterers, eventually awarding an emergency agreement to Lessings Hospitality of Great River from September through the end of December.
According to documents obtained by Freier, customer deposits made from September through December added up to around $300,000, however, many customers canceled plans at the catering hall following the September revelations. While those who canceled events forfeited their deposits when doing so, Parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino confirmed at the meeting that the town is responsible for approximately $50,000 in lost revenue and other expenses—a bill that taxpayers will have to cover, which officials at the meeting confirmed.
“This comes after the town raised our taxes by 11.5 percent,” said Freier. “This adds insult to injury. We’re paying for Venditto and his board’s mismanagement and abuse of our money. It’s business as usual in the town. We really need wholesale change from the top down. The board shares equal responsibility—they enabled Venditto to commit his alleged crimes because they voted on all the resolutions.”
“The emergency contract with Lessings could be extended past Dec. 31 as the town prepares new request for proposals,” said the town’s attorney.
During the meeting, board members went into an executive session behind closed doors for more than an hour. When they returned and declared that no action was taken, a resident questioned the necessity of the executive session and why such conversations cannot happen in the presence of the public.
“Having the executive session in private is the law,” said Venditto.