When the jurors in the trial of former Suffolk County Legis. George Guldi got to hear the closing arguments on Valentine’s Day, he was wearing a black pin-stripe suit, a blue shirt and a pale green bow-tie imprinted with tiny brown scales of justice. The windowless courtroom in Riverhead had the heat cranked up high, and Guldi was sweating. It was his “first criminal summation ever!” he later told an observer. The jurors started hearing the $863,000 insurance fraud case in mid-January.
“I apologize for the time it’s taken out of your lives,” he told them as they sat impassively a few yards away.
If Guldi was “Jabba the Hutt with pockmarks,” as he described himself to the jury, then his pint-sized, pugnacious prosecutor, Thalia Stavrides, must have been Princess Leia, because after a great show of defending himself, The Force was clearly against Guldi last week. He lost big.
Last Wednesday, the 57-year-old Democrat was acquitted of two counts of forgery but found guilty of insurance fraud and grand larceny. The twice-married father of five now faces five to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced March 18.
On Friday, Judge James F.X. Doyle raised Guldi’s bail from $500,000 cash or $1 million bond to $1.1 million cash or $2.2 million bond. Stavrides had argued that Guldi was “a serious flight risk,” a charge the ex-pol denied. He was still behind bars at Suffolk County jail as of press time.
This case was small potatoes for the Westhampton Beach attorney, a mere four counts. The worst one is still to come: a 130-count indictment charging Guldi and a handful of others with $82 million in mortgage fraud that links S&M dominatrices in SoHo to real-estate hijinks in the Hamptons. The political ramifications of this upcoming trial could run deep, especially considering that the Suffolk County district attorney’s leading witness against Guldi, a convicted felon named Ethan Ellner, is a former housemate and a workout buddy of County Executive Steve Levy. Ellner has alleged that Levy, who was an usher at his wedding, solicited campaign contributions for county contracts.
The latest trial, described by some legal observers as “a circus,” packed in a lot of material, from steroids to typewriter fonts…even to a Happy Valentine’s Day greeting. But one thing it didn’t have was Levy, though his absence was keenly felt. Indeed, he had representatives from the County Attorney’s office on hand as well as a private attorney to monitor developments. Levy declined to comment for this article.
Levy succeeded in keeping his name out of the court hearing, despite Guldi’s dramatic attempts to drag him into it.
Guldi wanted to divert attention from himself and discredit Ellner, his former business partner and once a close friend.
Ellner had been a co-defendant in the $82-million case but he pleaded guilty in December 2009 to several felonies and became a cooperating witness.
This year, Guldi had Levy served with a subpoena at a January news conference but the subpoena was nixed due to the efforts of Suffolk County Attorney Christine Malafi. And thanks to a ruling by Judge Doyle, all that the jurors in this insurance fraud case heard from Guldi about the county executive were Lord Voldemort-like references to “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”
After the trial had gotten underway, Newsday reported that Ellner, who once owned a title company with his mother Gladys, had told Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office back in 2010 that a high-ranking county official (whose name Spota’s office blacked out) had asked him “for a bribe” to get Suffolk County title work—a “pay to play” campaign contribution scheme that may have begun in 2005. The dots the paper subsequently connected tied $8,900 in contributions from a holding company run by Ellner’s mother Gladys to Friends of Steve Levy between May 21, 2006 and June 25, 2007, according to New York State campaign finance disclosure records. In the trial, the words “Steve Levy” were redacted.
“Ellner used to brag to me all the time about all the shit he did with Levy,” Guldi told the Press outside the courtroom before the guilty verdicts came down. “They used to pump iron together.”
The county executive has said that he gave Ellner’s company, Suburban Abstract, $85,000 in county title work so his former friend could get back on his feet after he’d been convicted of federal income tax evasion.
“I tried to give a guy a second chance in life, and no good deed goes unpunished,” Levy told Newsday last April. The two men had shared a house in Holbrook together from October 2001 to April 2004, the New York Daily News reported, while Ellner was going through a divorce. Levy had bought the duplex in 1997 when his marriage had hit a rocky patch.