This story was reported by Andrew Smith, Nicole Fuller and Bridget Murphy. It was written by Smith.
The nature of truth, love and friendship appeared to have flexible meanings in the mind of Harendra Singh, depending on how much trouble he was in and with whom, defense attorneys for John Venditto and Linda Mangano tried to show last week.
Singh, 59, a failed restaurateur, is the star witness against Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, the former Oyster Bay supervisor; Mangano, 54, of Bethpage, and her husband, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, 56.
After 13 days on the witness stand in the federal corruption trial in Central Islip, Singh returned to his Laurel Hollow mansion, where he will remain until he is sentenced for bribery and other charges, unless eviction occurs before that.
Singh has testified that he bribed Edward Mangano and Venditto for years, to get public concessions contracts and to ensure Oyster Bay guaranteed loans he needed to keep his businesses going. One of those bribes, he said, involved giving a no-show job to Linda Mangano, who federal authorities say lied when agents questioned her.
Attorneys for Venditto and Linda Mangano spent the week attacking Singh’s character and what the lawyers characterized as his seeming ability to change his version of what happened, depending on his audience. They say they believe they were successful.
“I think Singh gave us everything we needed,” said Linda Mangano’s lawyer, John Carman of Garden City. “I think Singh has proven himself to be an extremely desperate person. As a human being, I have sympathy for him. But as Linda Mangano’s attorney, I don’t.”
Edward Mangano and Venditto have pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest-services fraud for both, extortion for Mangano and securities fraud for Venditto. Linda Mangano has pleaded not guilty to charges including obstructing justice and making false statements to the FBI.
Carman and Venditto’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo of Manhattan, have attempted to paint Singh as a manipulator who skews his view of a friendship or a situation depending on his needs in the moment.
For example, how he describes his lifestyle appears to have changed.
When he was riding high, his email address was “firstname.lastname@example.org.” He testified about how he bought a mansion in Laurel Hollow, knocked it down and built a bigger one. Already the owner of a $70,000 Audi sport utility vehicle, he bought a $152,000 Maserati GranTurismo sports car.
But during questioning by Carman, he minimized all that.
He said that he “didn’t pay too much attention” to how others viewed him, drawing an incredulous response from Carman.
“You lived like a mogul, right?” Carman asked.
“I lived a modest life,” Singh replied.
Carman then showed the jury a series of photos of the exterior and interior of Singh’s home, which is now in foreclosure. Singh told Carman he was unaware if Laurel Hollow was among the 10 priciest towns in the nation, adding that his home was “very near Syosset.”
“The poor section of Laurel Hollow?” Carman asked, acidly.
Singh disavowed much knowledge about the cost of various items in the home, conceding only that it was “an expensive house.”
When Carman displayed a photo of the home’s sprawling finished basement, he asked, “Is that the local bowling alley?”
Singh eventually said the floor was “plastic” and cost $900.
Singh similarly minimized his friendships with the Manganos and the Vendittos during cross-examination.
Carman asked if he had a “true friendship” with Linda Mangano. Singh conceded she was a “very good friend.”
Carman questioned Singh about numerous affectionate text messages between him and Linda Mangano. She often referred to Singh as “my love.”
At Thanksgiving 2014, she texted him, “I am so thankful for your friendship. You are the closest thing I will have to a brother.”
He replied three minutes later, “My friend, you are making me cry. We love you all.”
Carman asked if the affection between them was an act put on for FBI agents.
“This was no act,” Singh said. “They were very good friends. I think we both were sincere.”
Carman asked if Linda joked with him in front of Ed, telling him, “You should kill Ed and run away with me.”
“That was Linda’s joke, not me,” Singh said. In response to further questions, he denied introducing Linda Mangano as his girlfriend at a wedding event.
Singh also denied that he provided rides to Venditto’s daughter, Joanne, or to his son, Michael, because he cared for them. He said he did so because Venditto’s chief of staff, Rich Porcelli, had ordered him to do it on behalf of the supervisor.
Agnifilo tried to establish that he had a particularly caring relationship with Michael Venditto, who worked at the town golf course when he was 16 years old. Agnifilo asked if he knew him back when he was just picking weeds at the golf course.
“Whether he picked weed or did nothing, I was not aware of that,” Singh said.
Agnifilo reviewed text messages between the two. They repeatedly joked, as Michael Venditto’s political career took off, about whether Michael Venditto was now more important than the Venditto family dog. Venditto eventually served as a GOP state senator.
“He called you ‘uncle,’ right?” Agnifilo asked. “You wrote back, ‘Have a great time, my handsome nephew.’”
“Again, a joke,” Singh replied.
“He’s not handsome?” Agnifilo asked.
“He’s more handsome than I am, I can tell you that,” Singh said, to laughter.
But Singh insisted there was no friendship, no sense of caring behind these exchanges on his part, as John Venditto stared at him.
“Did you love them?” Agnifilo asked.
Singh paused and said, “I love them, yes.” But he said that’s not why he showed kindness or generosity to them.
“I was trying to protect my business investment in the Town of Oyster Bay by being nice,” he said, an answer he repeated about other seeming acts of affection he showed toward Venditto family members.
“Do you have a real relationship with anybody?” Agnifilo finally asked. U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack sustained an objection to the question.
Singh also sparred with attorneys about why he turned against his friends and began cooperating with federal authorities in 2016.
Singh had told prosecutors he realized he was living a lie and wanted to tell the truth. But he conceded during questioning by defense attorneys that he hoped his cooperation persuades Azrack to give him less than the 30 years or more in prison that he faces now.
Carman also surprised Singh by showing him emails that established that Linda Mangano did more work for Singh than he thought she had. Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile, however, got Singh to say her work was still minimal and that he didn’t give a no-show job to anyone else.
Agnifilo attempted to distance John Venditto from the town’s guarantees of Singh’s business loans, tying them more closely to deputy town attorney Frederick Mei, who pleaded guilty in September 2015 to honest services fraud for orchestrating the guarantees in return for numerous bribes.
Mei, who also cooperated with federal authorities, is expected to testify later in the trial.
The defense noted that on wiretaps, Singh denied to Mei and others that he bribed anyone and said he could not help federal authorities with their investigation.
Mirabile and Singh, unlike the defense, said he was lying then, not now.
Mirabile asked whether Singh told any of the people he admitted paying off — the Manganos, Venditto, Mei, Oyster Bay Town Attorney Leonard Genova — that he was bribing the others.
“You denied bribing everyone?” she asked.
Singh answered: “Correct.”