The lender to indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh’s concessions at Oyster Bay’s golf course and Tobay Beach has demanded that the town pay more than $14.6 million after Singh defaulted on loans guaranteed by the town, according to letters obtained by Newsday.
Oyster Bay officials have disputed that the loan guarantees are valid.
The demand for payment, in three letters dated Feb. 26, came as Oyster Bay’s credit rating was under review by Standard & Poor’s, ultimately dropping to junk status on April 27 after a decade of deficits, weak fiscal management and growing debt.
In the letters, the attorney and the chief investment officer for subsidiaries of Connecticut-based The Phoenix Companies demanded payment of $9.1 million for money loaned to SRB Concession Inc., which runs Tobay Beach, and $5.4 million for money loaned to S.R.B. Convention & Catering Corp. which runs the Woodlands catering hall at the town golf course. In 2014, the town board extended the concessions agreements with the Singh companies to 2065 and 2070. Singh sold his shares in the companies to outside investors, but his wife Ruby retains controlling ownership.
Singh on Sept. 9 was charged in federal court with 13 felony counts including bribing an Oyster Bay official to obtain $20 million in loan guarantees. He has pleaded not guilty. The amount, which included principal and interest on the loans, would be made as a “termination payment” by the town if the concession agreements ended before they expired or the borrowers defaulted. The lender notified the town in November that the companies were in default.
In each letter hand-delivered to town officials, the Phoenix subsidiaries demanded termination payments calculated as the principal plus “make-whole” premiums, interest, and past-due payments.
Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto said Wednesday that “a lot has occurred” since the letters were sent and referred questions to the town’s outside legal counsel, Jonathan Pickhardt, at Manhattan-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.
“Phoenix was in discussion before and after the date of these notices with the investors at the SRB entities,” Pickhardt said Wednesday. “There certainly have been no legal claims that have been filed, seeking to have any court involvement in this.”
“It continues to be the town’s position that these amendments were not properly authorized, they’re not enforceable,” he said.
Town representatives have said in financial disclosures this year that the loan guarantees are invalid because they were not entered into by board resolution, town officials don’t remember them, they were not properly archived, and they are illegal under state law, which prohibits a municipality from guaranteeing private debt.
The loans were privately placed with Phoenix Life Insurance Co. and PHL Variable Insurance Company by Purchase, New York-based NDH Capital Corp. Those loans were reported in the Phoenix companies’ annual asset disclosure as debts of Oyster Bay.
Phoenix officials did not respond to requests for comment.
In February, Phoenix officials wrote to the town that “neither SRB Concession nor SRB Convention has cured the defaults” that it had notified them about in November.
The February letters cite amendments to the concession agreements that state the town was obligated to pay within 60 days following it receiving a default notice. Those amendments bear signatures of Town Attorney Leonard Genova, who was authorized to sign contracts on behalf of Venditto.
The town has not disputed similar indirect guarantees it extended to the same Singh companies, including one for $2 million that will be in place until April 29, 2025. Federal prosecutors alleged that Singh bribed a town official — identified by sources as former deputy town attorney Fred Mei — with $50,000 in checks made out to cash and a $36,000 luxury car lease in return for scheduling meetings with town officials and negotiating the loan guarantees. Mei, who resigned in August, has not been charged.
Venditto has not publicly disclosed when he learned of the loan guarantees.
On Feb. 2, Venditto announced at a town board meeting that the investors in the SRB companies who had been running operations since Singh was arrested had a proposal that would remove the loan guarantees and the Singh family from ownership of the companies.
Days after Phoenix issued its demand letters, one of those investors, Ravinder Chopra, said in an interview that it was the town rather than the investors pushing for a renegotiated agreement in which the investors would pay off the Phoenix loan to remove the town’s guarantee.
Chopra acknowledged at that time that one of problems with the transaction was that paying off the loan and removing the loan guarantees would expose the investors to risks. Chopra, of New Hyde Park, owns a mobile phone business.
Other investors who bought shares in Singh’s companies are Manoj Narang of Muttontown and Jagadeesan Poola of Old Westbury. Kamlesh Mehta of East Meadow has said his family company had a 10 percent share in the Tobay operations but was no longer involved.
Pickhardt said the default notices don’t have an impact on negotiations with the investors. The town board could vote on a new agreement next week.
Venditto last week said town board members would receive that proposal within a day, but on Wednesday two board members said they had not received any proposal.