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Mangano-Venditto corruption trial kicks off Monday

Former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, left, and

Former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, left, and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, seen here on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Newsday

The federal corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife, Linda, and former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto is scheduled to start with jury selection Monday.

The Manganos and Venditto have pleaded not guilty and assert they are victims of a plot by Long Island restaurateur Harendra Singh to get leniency for his own crimes by falsely claiming they engaged in a bribery-and-kickback scheme.

The Manganos-Venditto case is the latest to go to trial as the result of recent investigations into political corruption on Long Island by Eastern District federal prosecutors, the FBI and IRS. Three resulted in convictions and prison sentences, for the former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, the former Town of Oyster Bay planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito — who died in prison in June — and the former Suffolk County Conservative Party leader, Edward Walsh.

Prosecutors said Thursday that they expect Singh to be the government’s leadoff witness, and they have said in the past that they have 100 potential witnesses lined up to testify at a trial that could last two months at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.

Defense attorneys have denied their clients have been involved in any criminal activity.

Edward Mangano and Venditto are accused of taking bribes in what is also known as an illegal “stream of benefits” scheme while they were in office, prosecutors say in court papers. In return for the continuing illegal benefits, the defendants were involved in orchestrating a complex method to get Singh more than $20 million in indirect government loan guarantees from the Town of Oyster Bay, according to Eastern District federal prosecutors in court papers.

The money was not only for the food concessions that Singh ran for Oyster Bay on the town golf course and at a town beach, but also for his financially troubled restaurant empire, prosecutors said.

New York State law forbids governments from guaranteeing loans for private businesses.

In addition, as a result of the scheme, Singh also got a $237,000 contract from Nassau County to provide food for emergency workers in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, and a contract worth approximately $200,000 to provide bread and rolls to the Nassau County jail, the prosecutors said in the papers.

While Mangano and Singh had been friends for 25 years, the alleged bribes to Mangano began shortly after he took office as county executive in 2010, the Eastern District prosecutors allege.

The bribes, or illegal “stream of benefits,” that the defendants also received for aiding Singh included more than $450,000 for a no-show job for Linda Mangano, ostensibly sometimes as a food taster for Singh’s Water’s Edge restaurant in Long Island City, the Eastern District prosecutors allege.

“Mangano, in essence, demanded” that his wife get the job, “and set L. Mangano’s salary,” as part of his corrupt dealings with Singh, prosecutors said.

In addition, the bribes to Mangano from Singh included a $3,300 ergonomic office chair, a $3,600 massage chair, a $7,300 Panerai Luminor watch, and $3,700 worth of hardwood flooring installed in the bedroom of the Manganos’ Bethpage home, prosecutors said.

A person identified then only as Official #1 specifically asked Singh to purchase the $3,600 massage chair for him, according to a transcript of a formerly secret court hearing in October of 2016 at which the restaurateur pleaded guilty to bribing Edward Mangano and Venditto.

Further bribes to Mangano from Singh also included the restaurateur paying for “various hotel and travel expenses” for the county executive and his family for vacations to Niagara Falls, St. Thomas, Turks and Caicos, and Amelia Island, Florida, as well as free meals at Singh’s restaurants, the prosecutors said in court papers.

Venditto is accused of having Singh pay for free limousine service for himself and his family, getting discount rates for fundraisers at a Singh restaurant, and use of a conference room as an office in the basement of a Singh restaurant.

Edward Mangano is charged with conspiracy, federal program bribery, honest services wire fraud, extortion, and obstruction of justice.

Venditto is charged with conspiracy, federal program bribery, honest services wire fraud, securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal law enforcement officials.

Linda Mangano is charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal law enforcement officials.

Among the potential key government witnesses at the trial could be former Oyster Bay Deputy Town Attorney Frederick Mei, and former Oyster Bay Town Attorney Leonard Genova.

Prosecutors revealed in January, when handing over material to the defense, that Singh and Mei had pleaded guilty to various charges in connection with the alleged kickback-and-bribery scheme. Further, the prosecutors revealed that both Singh and Mei had agreed to cooperate with the government. Among Mei’s activities for the government, prosecutors said, was wearing a wire for months provided by the FBI during the government’s investigation of the case.

The prosecutors said that Singh secretly pleaded guilty in October of 2016 to bribing Edward Mangano and Venditto, and attempting to bribe New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The mayor was not charged and has denied any illegal activity.

According to a transcript of his plea, Singh said: “I knew what I was doing was wrong and illegal and I feel profoundly sorry for that.”

Singh also said as part of his plea said: “During the time I was paying Linda Mangano, she was not required to show up for work and no work product was expected from her. I hired Linda Mangano at the request of Ed Mangano and my purpose in hiring her was to influence Ed.”

At the same time in January, prosecutors revealed that Mei secretly had pleaded guilty in September 2015 to fraud for accepting $50,000 in checks and a $36,000 lease on a BMW for helping get an unnamed person get indirect loan guarantees from Oyster Bay. That unnamed person matches the actions of Singh.

Defense attorneys have said that neither the Manganos nor Venditto were involved in any corrupt dealings with Singh, and that the indirect loan guarantees were the work of Singh and Mei without the defendants’ knowledge of any illegalities.

In addition, former town attorney Genova recently settled a civil suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging he committed securities fraud for his role in assisting an unnamed town concessionaire in getting loan guarantees from the town, and then not telling investors about the situation. Genova was not charged with any criminal act.

Singh has had a longtime relationship running the food concessions at several town beaches and the upscale restaurant The Woodlands, on the town golf course.

As part of the SEC settlement, Genova was given immunity to testify at the trial of the Manganos and Venditto.

According to federal prosecutors, shortly after Mangano took office in January 2010, Singh asked him for help in getting loan guarantees directly from Oyster Bay, and Mangano told him “it would get done.”

The matter took on urgency for Singh on April 7, 2010, when Mei forwarded the restaurateur an email from an outside counsel to the town saying that Oyster Bay could not guarantee the loans for Singh, prosecutors said.

Part of the email said, according to prosecutors: “Bottom line: I don’t see how the Town can possibly guarantee an open-ended general line of credit for H’s businesses.”

Singh then “approached Mangano and again enlisted Mangano’s assistance to secure loans backed by TOB,” prosecutors said, adding that “In particular, Singh told Mangano that they needed an attorney who would . . . say ‘yes’ to the loan guarantees.”

The next day, on April 8, Mangano’s former law firm, Rivkin Radler, was hired to work out a way to have Oyster Bay somehow support the Singh loans, court papers say. And a day later, “on April 9, 2010, L. Mangano received her first pay check for her sham $100,000/year ‘job’ at the Water’s Edge,” prosecutors said in court papers.

It took several more weeks to work out the details of how Oyster Bay would support the loans, the prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said that on April 28, 2010, a meeting was held in Venditto’s North Massapequa office for “the sole purpose to devise a way for the TOB to guarantee Singh’s loans, despite the prohibition.”

At the meeting were Edward Mangano, Venditto, Singh, Genova, Mei, and two lawyers from Rivkin Radler, prosecutors said.

Eventually, a way to provide indirect loan guarantees was devised that said that if Singh defaulted on the loans from financial institutions, the town would cancel its concession contracts with Singh, and provide his financial institution lenders with the money to repay the loans, according to prosecutors.

“Mangano used his official position to advise and pressure Venditto” to help Singh get the loan guarantees, prosecutors said.

The Rivkin Radler attorneys are not accused of any wrongdoing.

In the run-up to the trial, U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack has denied a slew of defense motions.

One of them claimed the government engaged in “selective prosecution” against Edward Mangano and Venditto by charging them but not de Blasio for getting financial benefits from Singh.

Singh said he was trying to get millions in favorable financial treatment from the city for his then Water’s Edge restaurant by making campaign contributions to the mayor. The Long Island City restaurant was partially on city land.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District in Manhattan, who handled the Water’s Edge part of the Singh case, declined to charge de Blasio with any crimes, though they questioned the mayor’s fundraising methods.

The mayor has denied any wrongdoing.

Azrack eventually ruled that the decision not to charge de Blasio was not relevant to the separate, unrelated charges against the Manganos and Venditto.

She has barred defense attorneys from mentioning that de Blasio was not charged because of his dealings with Singh. But the judge said she would allow defense attorneys to question Singh, if he was on the witness stand, about his relationship with de Blasio.

Edward Mangano’s attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, said in a statement that his client committed no crime.

“This is not one of those sad cases where a government vendor suddenly appears on the scene and bribes a public official to influence an outcome,” Keating said. “Mr. Mangano’s relationship with Mr. Singh and his family began nearly 20 years before his election to the position of County Executive. And once elected, not on a single occasion did Ed Mangano accept a thing of value in exchange for influencing a public decision. And, not on a single occasion did Ed Mangano put his interests ahead of the residents of the County for whom he served.”

Marc Agnifilo of Manhattan, Venditto’s attorney, predicted the jury will acquit his client.

“When the government arrested Frederick Mei and Harendra Singh, it solved the bribery case,” Agnifilo said. “Mei was an Oyster Bay Town attorney who accepted cash, cars and luxurious trips to Asia from Singh and in exchange, he helped Singh get business loans.

“Venditto got nothing from Singh and gave nothing to Singh.” Agnifilo said. “As often happens, the government made deals with the guilty to get the innocent.”

John Carman of Garden City, Linda Mangano’s attorney, said in a statement, referring to charges that his client lied to investigators about working for Singh: “Linda Mangano should never have been indicted, much less forced to prove her innocence at trial.

“We now live in a world where the awesome power of the government is regularly brought to bear against its citizens even when it is clear that no crime has been committed,” Carman said. “People, like Linda, who voluntarily agree to cooperate with law enforcement requests for interviews, need to be reminded that our criminal justice system is no longer fully dedicated to its original purpose, the search for the truth.”

The federal prosecutors in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Catherine Mirabile, Lara Treinis Gatz and Raymond Tierney, declined to comment, according to Eastern District spokesman John Marzulli.

The Manganos and Venditto face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Key public Long Island figures were sent to prison in recent years when they either pleaded guilty or were convicted, while others are still waiting for trial. Ippolito died in federal prison at the age of 78 in June after being sentenced to 27 months for evading taxes on $2 million in outside consulting fees. Burke and Walsh are still serving prison sentences.

Officials awaiting trial or retrial, as a result of the federal investigations, include former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and his top aide, Christopher McPartland; Mangano’s former chief assistant, Rob Walker, and Hempstead Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino. All have pleaded not guilty.

One-time Republican power broker Dean Skelos, 70, and son Adam Skelos, 35, are waiting retrial on corruption charges in the Southern District.

The two were convicted in 2015 of schemes in which Dean Skelos used his Senate power to get Adam jobs or consulting fees by squeezing real estate firm Glenwood Management, Nassau County contractor AbTech Industries and an affiliate of Physicians Reciprocal Insurers, a Roslyn malpractice firm.

They were sentenced, respectively, to 5- and 6 1⁄2 -year prison terms, but their convictions were reversed last year by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because jury instructions did not comply with a new Supreme Court decision narrowing federal public corruption laws.

Their retrial is scheduled for June 18.

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