This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy and Andrew Smith. It was written by Murphy.
The executive chef for Harendra Singh’s one-time restaurant empire testified Wednesday at the federal corruption retrial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda, that he had no clue the GOP official’s spouse had been on the payroll.
“I never saw Mrs. Mangano working in the offices or anywhere,” said prosecution witness Dave Salony, who worked for Singh from 1997 until 2014.
When Singh opened new restaurants, the couple also attended food tastings that were designed to test recipes and gather feedback, according to Salony. But he said Linda Mangano was only a guest, not an employee, and played no role in organizing the events.
“She usually sat with Mr. Singh and [his wife] Ruby,” he told Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Caffarone in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
“Eating free food?” Caffarone asked.
“Just like everyone else,” the witness replied.
During a later cross-examination, Salony had more to say about the Manganos attending numerous food tastings.
“H loved to have his political friends come,” the witness added, using Singh’s nickname.
Salony’s testimony followed similar accounts Tuesday from prosecution witnesses who said Linda Mangano’s perch in a top marketing job at Singh’s company was totally unknown to them even though they handled that type of work for the business.
Prosecutors are trying to show as the trial’s fifth week continues that Linda Mangano lied to the FBI about her alleged $450,000 “no-show” job that they say was among bribes Singh paid to Edward Mangano.
Both outside contractors and in-house employees who were involved in marketing and other communications duties for Singh testified this week that they had little or no contact with Linda Mangano in the workplace.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, witnesses also described handling tasks the Bethpage woman reportedly took credit for when the FBI began asking her in 2015 about her role in Singh’s business. The charges against Linda Mangano include specific accusations about 11 alleged lies she told federal officials.
Prosecutors say Singh began paying her more than $100,000 a year in April 2010 as one of several bribes the former self-anointed “restaurant mogul” paid Edward Mangano after the GOP official ascended that January to the top seat in Nassau’s government.
The government claims Edward Mangano repaid Singh by steering two county contracts to him and using his influence to push through the Town of Oyster Bay’s backing of $20 million in loans for the restaurateur.
Attorney Kevin Keating, who represents Edward Mangano, cross-examined Salony in a way that apparently tried to demonstrate Oyster Bay officials did Singh’s financial bidding — helping to build his business with a series of concession agreements — long before Mangano rose to Nassau’s chief government role.
The defense contends the Republican former leader didn’t have the power as a newly minted county executive in 2010 to sway Oyster Bay officials into backing Singh in a loan deal after a legal opinion from the town’s outside counsel deemed it unconstitutional.
Salony said he knew Singh first won a concessions agreement for the town’s Woodlands golf course venue in 1998 that was later extended for decades after Singh poured millions into an expansion — a business pattern he said also held after Singh landed the town’s Tobay Beach concessions agreement.
The chef said town officials often ate at Singh’s flagship restaurant HR Singletons, where he said Singh in 2006 built a basement conference room for then-Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, whom Singh called “The Supe.”
Salony said Singh also had him stock the politician’s preferred food — a pasta dish that wasn’t on the menu.
“I always had to have angel hair in the house for him,” Salony said.
Edward Mangano, 56, is on trial on felony charges that include bribery, extortion and conspiracy.
Linda Mangano, 55, is facing felony charges that include making false statements to the FBI, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
The couple’s first trial lasted three months and ended in May in a mistrial. Jurors found Venditto not guilty of corruption charges at the same proceeding.
The Manganos’ defense lawyers have portrayed Singh, 60, of Laurel Hollow, as a liar who is trying to win leniency before his sentencing for bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and tax evasion by testifying against the couple. The perks he gave them were merely gifts from a longtime family friend, the defense says.
A grand jury’s indictment against the Manganos alleges in part that Linda Mangano lied when she told the FBI she handled the menu changes and new color schemes for Singh’s restaurants, and again when she said she designed a two-sided menu for Besi Pizza.
It also accuses her of lying when she said she provided input about food on the menu for three Singh restaurants that included Besi Pizza and Fuego Picante.
Salony also testified during questioning by the prosecution Wednesday that Linda Mangano had no input in any of the menu changes for Besi Pizza or Fuego Picante, or on the latter restaurant’s redesign, including the color choice for the property’s décor.
The chef said a team of Singh employees, including himself, other managers and Singh, created the dishes for the menus and had a marketing employee do the design work.
But during a cross-examination, the defense hammered home to jurors that Salony was testifying under a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office after failing to pay taxes on his full income from 2012 to 2015.
Linda Mangano’s lead attorney, John Carman, also honed in on the fact that Salony didn’t pay taxes on most of his income for nearly two decades — an amount the witness said he’d never tallied up.
“Have you paid back one penny?” Carman asked.
“No,” Salony said.
“Interest?” the lawyer inquired.
“No,” the witness replied.
Salony also agreed he was avoiding financial responsibility, but added: “That’s not why I’m here. I’m here to tell the truth.”
But Carman soon pointed to the defense table.
“You’re not gonna have to sit here, correct?”
“Correct,” Salony said.
The witness also acknowledged he learned before the Manganos’ first trial that Linda Mangano had exchanged emails with Singh employee Joe Scalice, who had managed the Water’s Edge restaurant in Queens, while doing some work for the business in 2010.
Salony said he may not have known about her work there was because he’d been busy then getting a new Singh restaurant started in East Meadow.
Also Wednesday, hospitality design firm owner Karen Dallago, who contracted with Singh in 2012 to renovate the space at Fuego Picante, testified for the prosecution that she interacted with Singh, Salony, and two other outside contractors, but never Linda Mangano.
Dallago said she went to design meetings to discuss colors, concepts and menu design between 2012 and 2013 for Fuego Picante and Singh’s Chow Down Diner, but the county executive’s wife wasn’t involved.
Attorney Sara Pervez, another lawyer for Linda Mangano, later asked Dallago during a cross-examination about questions the FBI posed when they interviewed the witness in 2017.
She told Pervez the FBI didn’t really ask her about how much time she spent on projects, but “it was more a time frame.”
U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack ended trial testimony early Wednesday as a snowy forecast posed transportation complications.