Breaking News: Three Former Orange County IDA Officials Plead Guilty to Felony Corruption Charges
John Jordan | June 21, 2021
GOSHEN—Three former officials with the Orange County Industrial Development Agency pled guilty earlier today before Orange County Judge Robert J. Prisco to felony corruption and conflict of interest charges, Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced. The IDA officials included its former managing director Vincent Cozzolino, CEO Laurie Villasuso and former Board Director Edward Diana, a former Orange County Executive and Town of Wallkill Supervisor.
The guilty pleas were the culmination of a four-month investigation launched by the Orange County District Attorney, the New York State Comptroller’s Office and the Town of New Windsor Police Department.
“We do not have an embezzlement, we don’t have a theft of funds, we don’t have missing money,” Orange County District Attorney Hoovler said. “What we have in this case is a pattern of non-disclosed conflicts of interest where these individuals were self-dealing. They were making decisions which benefitted themselves…” He added that their actions “cheated the taxpayers” of Orange County.
Former IDA Managing Director Cozzolino, 62 of Gardiner, pled guilty to Corrupting the Government in the third degree, a Class D felony. Villasuso, 41 of Newburgh, the former CEO of the Orange County IDA, pled guilty to Corrupting the Government in the Fourth Degree, a Class E felony. Diana, 72, of Wallkill, a former member of the Orange County IDA Board, pled guilty to Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the first Degree, a Class E Felony, and Committing a Prohibited Conflict of Interest.
Cozzolino and Villasuso each admitted that they acted in concert in a scheme to defraud the IDA through payments the IDA made to Galileo Technology Group, Inc., a company Cozzolino had a 50% ownership interest in. Villasuso and Diana each were employed by Galileo while also either working directly for the IDA or in Diana’s case serving on its IDA Board as a volunteer.
In their sentencing disposition agreements with the Orange County District Attorney, Cozzolino has agreed to reimburse the IDA $1 million. Villasuso has agreed to reimburse the IDA $175,000, while Diana has agreed to pay the IDA $90,000, which was the funds Diana took home from his employment with Galileo Technology Group., Inc. Cozzolino, Villasuso and Diana have agreed to make restitution by the time they are sentenced on Sept. 10, 2021. The District Attorney is recommending Cozzolino be given probation, Villasuso a conditional discharge and Diana also be granted conditional discharge. Diana has also agreed to cooperate with the District Attorney and State Comptroller’s Office in the preparation of a report on the flaws of the IDA operations, which should be issued in a few weeks. If Diana complies with the terms of the agreement, his felony plea would be reduced to a misdemeanor.
The investigation of the IDA centered on conflicts of interest, particularly surrounding the IDA’s Accelerator program, which was managed by Cozzolino and Galileo Technology Group.
District Attorney Hoovler and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and others at a press conference held at the Legislative Chambers at the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, also took aim at the lack of oversight of the then Orange County IDA Board of Directors, which was removed by the Orange County Legislature in March 2021 after legislators became aware of possible conflicts of interest at the IDA.
New York State Comptroller DiNapoli said of the three individuals who pled guilty in the case: “Although their scheme was complex, their motives were simple: greed. We must have zero-tolerance for public corruption. Thanks to our partnership with Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler and the New Windsor Police, we were able to bring their crimes to light and recover their ill-gotten gains.”
Stephen R. Coffey, Esq. and Scott W. Iseman, Esq., attorney for Cozzolino released a prepared statement, which in part read: “Vincent deeply regrets his conduct, has accepted responsibility for what he did wrong and has made the Orange County IDA whole.”
They characterized the Orange County IDA’s embattled Accelerator program as a “true economic development engine” that attracted diverse industries to Orange County including minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
The statement concluded: “Vincent’s mistakes should not overshadow the many great achievements that young companies and entrepreneurs made while working with the IDA’s accelerator program, and still can make in the Orange County community.”
Villasuso had no comment when contacted by Real Estate In-Depth.
Ben Ostrer, an attorney for former County Executive Diana, said in a report in the Middletown Times Herald Record. “If this could happen to Ed Diana, this could happen to anyone. If you are in government service be thankful it isn’t you.”
District Attorney Hoovler said the case was complicated by the lack of oversight by the IDA Board and its Legal Counsel and the approvals granted to in some cases poorly written contracts and expenses with little transparency or backup. He said their incompetence and negligence gave Cozzolino and Villasuso a “built-in defense.” However, Hoovler said that the sheer volume of the conflicts of interest and multiple methods they used to “make money and try to hide it,” overcome that defense.