This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert F. Kessler, Bridget Murphy, Emily Ngo and Andrew Smith. It was written by Ngo.
When restaurateur Harendra Singh needed loans to keep his struggling businesses afloat, he went to his friend Edward Mangano because, Singh testified Thursday, the then-Nassau County executive had the “juice” to get the job done.
Mangano contacted then-Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who delegated the task to his “operations guy” Leonard Genova, who then assigned the task to deputy town attorney Frederick Mei, Singh said from the stand.
Eventually, $20 million in loans were indirectly guaranteed through amendments in concessions agreements between the Town of Oyster Bay and Singh’s businesses, Singh said.
Why did Singh initially appeal to Mangano and not Venditto, with whom he had a good relationship? Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile asked.
“He had a lot more juice,” Singh replied. “I wanted to make sure this loan happened, because it was a lifeline to my business.”
Singh, taking the stand for the first time as the government’s star witness in its federal corruption case against Mangano, retraced the arc of his life and career to the jury in the Central Islip courtroom.
He said he had learned early as a young entrepreneur that he needed to be part of “the club” and “the family” — the Oyster Bay Republicans — if he wanted to succeed in business.
“If you know the people, the right thing would be done by you,” Singh said. “Because you are one of the contributors and one of the family members.”
Singh said the indirect loan guarantee scheme was his idea and the officials made it reality.
Singh is cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to bribing Mangano and Venditto. He took questions from Mirabile on the third day of the trial examining an alleged corruption scheme that prosecutors say involved Mangano, his wife, Linda, and Venditto accepting a “stream of benefits” in exchange for county contracts and town-linked loans to Singh.
Edward Mangano, 55, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, face charges including conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest services wire fraud. Mangano additionally was charged with extortion. Linda Mangano, 54, of Bethpage, faces charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements. The three have pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorneys have sought to undermine Singh’s credibility as a cooperating witness.
“I think by the end of this trial, it will be quite clear that Singh’s view of the world is completely false,” said Edward Mangano’s attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City.
Singh, 59, of Laurel Hollow, and the Manganos have a friendship stretching back 25 years to when Singh had a fledgling Bethpage lunch spot and Edward Mangano was a young lawyer with a Bethpage printing business.
That bond was apparent in quiet moments Thursday.
Linda Mangano — who, according to FBI notes, described her relationship with Singh as that of “brother and sister” — took a tissue from one of her defense attorneys and dabbed at her eyes as Singh took the stand.
Edward Mangano’s gaze followed Singh as he walked to the front of the courtroom.
“I would have a connection and my life would be peaceful,” Singh said of campaigning for Mangano for county legislator, calling Mangano an “inspiring public official.”
Singh in his day on the stand detailed his dealings in Nassau County and the Town of Oyster Bay.
He said a parking dispute with a neighboring diner when he ran No Bananas restaurant in Bethpage inadvertently opened the door to his political friendships.
In litigation, the diner was represented by Gulotta and Stein, a law firm run by Frank Gulotta, brother of then-Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta, Singh said. As a result, Singh was “harassed” by Oyster Bay Town inspectors who issued No Bananas repeated summonses, he said.
One inspector, Frank Nocerino, who would go on to be town parks commissioner, said the goal was to drive Singh out of business, Singh said. A building inspector friend, Gary Blanchard, put Singh in touch with then-town board member Leonard Kunzig, who placed a call to Nocerino and put a stop to the summonses, Singh said.
“If you want to live in peace, you better join the Bethpage Republican Club,” Singh said Kunzig advised him.
So Singh did, he said.
“My take-away was that if you want to live in peace, you join the club,” he said. “You basically do the things that people want you to do . . . the people in power . . . Republicans in Oyster Bay.”
Singh said that in 1997, he contributed $5,000 to Venditto’s successful campaign for town supervisor.
A year later, he won a three-month emergency contract for the town golf course concessions, and later, won a three-year contract with options to extend to a total seven years, he said.
Singh said he talked with Genova and Mei, and, in 2000, he won a 20-year contract with a 10-year renewal option.
“It afforded me the American dreams which I was working for,” Singh said.
Yet with each contract extension, Singh said he was never satisfied and sought more. “We wanted to make sure our investment was secure,” he said.
Genova and Mei also are expected to be prosecution witnesses. Genova has immunity and Mei pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Singh.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that perks the Manganos and Venditto enjoyed from Singh included: a no-show job for Linda Mangano that netted her a total $450,000, office and massage chairs for Edward Mangano totaling nearly $7,000 and a luxury watch that cost $7,300 and that Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz said the Manganos presented to one of their sons for his 21st birthday “claiming it was from them.”
Singh said he rented the space next to his Bethpage restaurant, H.R. Singletons, to Mangano’s campaign — and then to Mangano’s Bethpage Republican Club — at heavily discounted rates.
He said he didn’t complain when Mangano’s organizations were late to pay or when they didn’t pay what they’d agreed.
“He was my friend,” Singh explained. “He was the newly elected county executive, and I knew I would need things. . . . I expected help whenever help was needed.”
Singh extended a house account to allow campaign and party officials to eat at H.R. Singletons.
“When did they eat at H.R. Singletons?” Mirabile asked.
“All day and all night,” Singh replied, eliciting a ripple of laughter through the courtroom.
Eventually, Singh said he presented a bill of $57,766.20 to the campaign, Friends of Ed Mangano, but Mangano complained it was too much and paid only $15,000 of it.
Singh said he saw the loss as “an investment.”
Mangano would come through for Singh as his eateries were struggling financially in the wake of the 2008 recession, Singh said.
Singh said he was “borrowing money from everywhere I can” to pay bills and then acknowledged several financial crimes.
Between 2008 to 2015, Singh said he participated in an illegal check scam, paid about half of his employees off the books and kept two sets of his tax returns. Both were false, he said.
Singh testified that he underreported receipts and overreported expenses on his returns to the IRS, and reported higher income and lower expenses on annual tax returns he submitted to banks for loans.
Mangano was experiencing financial struggles of his own.
In early 2010, after his election as county executive, Mangano discussed his personal finances with Singh, the witness said.
Mangano told Singh that he’d been doing “very well” in private law practice, but said his income had gone down since his election, and asked “if I would be interested in hiring Linda Mangano,” the witness recalled.
Mangano went so far as to show Singh a personal tax return demonstrating he was making $114,000 less as a public official, Singh said.
Singh agreed immediately to give Linda Mangano a job, because he wanted Edward Mangano to help him with loan guarantees, Singh said.
Linda Mangano was dubbed “director of marketing” — a title “for the payroll purposes,” Singh said.
He said she was on his payroll from March 2010 to August 2014, doing only an “email blast” to promote his Water’s Edge restaurant in Long Island City, Queens, and organizing a ladies’ luncheon at the same eatery.
As Mirabile, the prosecutor, rattled off questions, Singh answered again and again that Linda Mangano had done no work on logos, menus or color schemes and designs for his multiple restaurant properties.
Linda Mangano’s attorney, John Carman of Garden City, said of Singh: “He’s got a lot of talking to do and he’s far from finished, so let’s evaluate him at the end.”
Singh is expected to continue to be on the stand when the trial resumes in Central Islip on Monday.