A consultant at the center of an inquiry into corruption at the city Department of Buildings testified at a Manhattan trial last week that he had given gifts and trips to City Councilman Thomas Ognibene (R-Middle Village) in exchange for his clout in dealing with the agency.
The consultant, Ronald Lattanzio, took the stand last Thursday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan at the trial of Darral Hilton, the former chief Buildings Department inspector for Brooklyn, who is accused of accepting meals and tickets to sporting events in exchange for providing official favors to Lattanzio.
Lattanzio, the main witness in the case, who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and evidence tampering in 1998, agreed to allow authorities to place wire taps on the phones at his construction consulting firm. He faces up to seven years in prison after cooperating with the Manhattan district attorneys office in its four-year investigation into the Buildings Department.
For the first time last week, Lattanzio elaborated in court on his relationship with Ognibene, which up until then had been pieced together chiefly from excerpts of wiretaps in court papers. The consultant said he had given Ognibene, the City Councils minority leader and a close ally of Mayor Giuliani, free tickets and trips.
In the plea agreement with the Manhattan district attorneys office, Lattanzio admitted that between 1995 and 1998, he maintained a corrupt relationship with a New York City councilman and with members of his staff as well.
A spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said the investigation was continuing. Calls to the councilmans office were not returned by presstime Tuesday.
Hilton was the first of eight men to go on trial as the result of the investigation into corruption at the Buildings Department. Five were Buildings Department employees, including a former Queens commissioner, who have been charged with taking bribes in exchange for providing official favors.
The jury began deliberating in the Hilton case Tuesday. If convicted of the misdemeanor crime, Hilton could be sentenced to a year in prison.
City Board of Election records show that between 1994 and 1998, both Lattanzio and his consulting firm, A&E Consulting Services, contributed more than $8,500 to Ognibenes campaign. Under cross-examination by Hiltons attorney last Thursday, Lattanzio, a former deputy commissioner for the Buildings Department, said he had given Ognibene tickets to a Pavarotti concert, vacations to Disney World and to Vermont and had held fund-raisers for the councilman. Lattanzio also said he and others regularly met on Fridays at Ognibenes office, where they would eat lunch.
Lattanzios 1998 plea agreement with the district attorney said he offered vacations, entertainment tickets, meals, gifts and campaign contributions to Ognibene.
In return, the plea agreement said, the councilman took steps that advanced Mr. Lattanzios businesses, including, but not limited to, expedited access to agencies and officials that oversaw Mr. Lattanzios businesses.
It also said the councilman provided assistance in getting jobs for Lattanzios associates and helped quash a governmental investigation. Until the Village Voice published an article on Lattanzio two weeks ago, Ognibene had not been identified as the councilman with whom Lattanzio admitted to having a corrupt relationship.
Court papers indicate Ognibene was going to submit the name of Barry Cox, the former deputy commissioner of the Buildings Department who has been charged in the case, for the position of vice president of the School Construction Authority, a post with an annual salary of $130,000.
In addition, prosecutors contend that James Leonard, the former Queens borough commissioner who has also been charged, had expressed a willingness to help Ognibene with amending a certificate of occupancy for an acquaintance of the councilmans. Leonard was a prospective candidate for city commissioner of the Buildings Department.
Records kept by the Board of Elections reveal that Lattanzios firm, A&E Consultants, contributed to Ognibenes campaign on four separate occasions, including a personal check from Lattanzio for $2,500 on April 3, 1995. In 1994, the records show, his firm contributed $500 to the councilmans campaign, and a total of $2,625 in 1997. On March 2, 1998, A&E Consulting Services again made a contribution of $3,000, the records show.
Dustin Brown contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2001 Community News Group
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