Marc Agniflio, the lawyer for former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, jumped right in after the lunch break Tuesday, hitting hard at prosecution witness Frederick Mei’s credibility — and culpability for accepting cash, trips and other bribes from restaurateur Harendra Singh.
“In the beginning, I was in denial about the bribes I had taken,” said Mei, a former Oyster Bay deputy town attorney, as Agnifilo pressed him about why he initially lied to the FBI about bribes he took from Singh.
And as for trips to India paid for by Singh, Mei testified, “In my mind, they were Raj and Raj Foundation trips. I didn’t think they were bribes.” (The foundation was founded by Singh’s father, a retired physician, who established a hospital in a rural community in India.)
Mei said he changed his mind “after three years of thinking about what I had done.”
Mei was being cross-examined in the sixth week of the federal trial of Venditto, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Mangano’s wife, Linda.
As the afternoon wore on, Agnifilo took Mei through the details of loans that he helped secure for Singh with the town’s backing — asking questions along the way about why Mei didn’t file paperwork with the town clerk or why he didn’t tell Leonard Genova, the then-deputy supervisor, about how large the last two town-backed loans were.
The courtroom perked up when Mei talked about a meeting he had with lawyers investigating the loans for the town.
He said he believed he was being scapegoated by the town.
And he was afraid of losing his job, and his pension.
Mei, who has been moderate in tone during two days on the stand, was vehement in telling Agnifilo that he felt more comfortable talking to “FBI agents, with their handguns and handcuffs” than he did with lawyers working for the town.
“I was afraid,” Mei testified. “ . . . I was nervous.”
Trying for some distance
Kevin Keating, Edward Mangano’s lawyer, had kicked off the defense cross-examination of Mei Tuesday morning, by attempting to put distance between the former county executive and the workings of Oyster Bay.
And by pressing Mei about a recorded conversation he had with Singh while wearing a wire for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Three times, Keating said, referring to a transcript of the March 26, 2015, recording, Mei tried to get Singh to talk about what the former restaurateur did for his friend, Mangano.
And three times, Keating insisted, Mei came up empty.
“I was fishing for information to elicit H. Singh to make certain statements,” Mei acknowledged at one point.
And, Keating said, Mei managed to do so — by getting Singh to talk about buying a restaurant from Frederick Ippolito, Oyster Bay’s then-commissioner of planning and economic development.
Singh, in earlier testimony, said he bought Cristiano’s in Oyster Bay from Ippolito at Ippolito’s request. He also said he, again at Ippolito’s request, gave him $50,000 in cash in a brown paper bag as part of the payment.
Singh, in the conversation recorded by Mei, talked about the restaurant.
But, Keating noted, that Singh said little about Mangano.
“Was there anything he did for you?” Keating quoted Mei, reading aloud from the transcript as Mei looked on from the witness stand.
“Nothing. Nothing,” Keating quoted Singh as replying.
And later, Keating asked Mei if he remembered unsuccessfully “trying again to elicit from Singh something Ed Mangano did for him.”
“I don’t know,” Mei replied, “But I’m sure you’ll tell me.”
Keating, referring once again to the transcript, did.
Mei testified Monday that got his first bribe from Singh after Mei joked about how much money other lawyers made from loan closings.
“My intention was to see if H. was willing to give me money,” Mei said.
“He picked up on what I was hinting at,” Mei said. “He gave me $10,000 in cash.”
“You took the money?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz asked.
“Yeah,” Mei answered.
“Why?” she pressed.
“Greed,” he said.
Sometime later, Mei was asked about a second $10,000 in cash he received from Singh after a second loan closed.
“Why are you getting $10,000 from Harendra Singh?” Treinis Gatz asked.
“Again, it was greed,” Mei said.
“What did you do with the money?” Treinis Gatz pressed.
“Spent it,” Mei said.
“Did you even have to come out and ask him for the money?” she asked.
“By that time,” Mei answered, “no.”
Unlike William Savino, a Rivkin Radler law partner who last week testified that he could recall only some of the lawyers in attendance at an April 28, 2010 meeting at Venditto’s campaign office, Mei’s memory worked just fine.
On Monday, Mei testified that Venditto was at the meeting.
He said, in fact, that Venditto ran the meeting.
Mei also testified that Edward Mangano was at the gathering in North Massapequa as well.
So were: Leonard Genova, then the town’s deputy supervisor; Richard Porcelli, Venditto’s chief of staff; Rob Walker, Mangano’s chief deputy; Jonathan Sinnreich, the town’s outside legal counsel; William Cornachio, another Rivkin Radler partner, Savino and Mei.
And, of course, Singh — which was no surprise since the meeting had been called to consider possible ways of having the town help him get financing.
“Why was Edward Mangano at the meeting?” Treinis Gatz asked.
“It was to bring political clout to H’s request to have loans guaranteed by the town,” Mei replied.
To which there was an objection.
Which U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack overruled.
“ . . . Ed Mangano was there at H. Singh’s request,” Mei said he was told by Singh, “ . . . to show support for H. Singh and to lend his political clout to the matter.”
On Tuesday, under cross-examination from Keating, Mei said Mangano did not talk during that meeting.
Mei said that how the town handled requests for proposals differed for vendors who were connected compared to those who were not.
“There are other RFPs that are handled differently,” Mei testified.
“Selected by the town before the process is complete?” Treinis Gatz asked. “That person is selected no matter how many other people apply?”
“Yes,” Mei replied.
At one point, the RFP for the town beach concession was broken off from other parks and beaches.
“Was that preordained to go to Mr. Singh?” Treinis Gatz asked.
“Yes,” Mei answered.
Later in referring to a beach concession, Mei testified that he was told by Venditto, “’Feel free to make it a Disney World if you like.’”
Mei testified that he received bribes in the form of meals, trips, cash and other items from Singh, but what did the former restaurateur get in return?
“It gave him access to me virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Mei testified Monday. “It pushed his work to the top of my pile.”
Later, under questioning, he would elaborate, “He got better treatment by treating people well. He had access to virtually everyone in the town. When I saw him walking, he knew everybody . . . I would say he had the most access of everybody.”
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