Indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh's companies were up to eight months late and more than $180,000 behind on rent and utility payments to Oyster Bay when town board members unanimously voted to extend its contracts with Singh last year, according to documents obtained by Newsday.
The documents, which were generated by the town comptroller's office, show that Singh's companies never paid the town in full on three accounts from January 2013 through March 2014. The records are dated April 21, 2014 -- 13 days after the board voted to extend public contracts with Singh by 20 years.
Singh's unpaid bills contradict public statements made by Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who said at a June 23 town board meeting that Singh had a good payment history.
"He's always paid the rent on time," Venditto said at that meeting. "I suspect that there were times when he may have missed a month here, missed a month there, but never to the point where it was cause for any concern."
The fact that town officials knew that Singh wasn't paying his bills raises fresh questions about their decision to continue a business relationship with the politically connected contractor, who has been charged by federal prosecutors with bribing an Oyster Bay official. Town officials have portrayed themselves as victims of a "bad apple" within the town attorney's office, but have not explained why board members strengthened the town's ties with Singh in the face of his obvious financial struggles.
Venditto and other Oyster Bay town officials declined to answer questions for this story. (The 2014 unanimous vote to extend Singh's agreements did not include Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, who was absent.) Town spokeswoman Marta Kane emailed a statement that said the public disclosure of the financial documents Newsday obtained was an "especially sensitive situation."
"The town is very concerned about the unauthorized disclosure and potential alteration of town documents," Kane said. Kane declined to identify any potential alterations indicated in her statement or provide Newsday with documents detailing any differences in Singh's payment history.
Newsday first requested payment histories concerning Singh's companies from Oyster Bay officials in May. On Aug. 14, Newsday filed with the town a Freedom of Information Law request for the records, but town officials have not provided the records and have not offered an explanation for why they have been withheld. Newsday has filed an appeal with the town seeking the release of those public records, which by law were due last month.
Newsday instead obtained the financial documents from Christopher Briggs, a former Oyster Bay constable who became a whistleblower after filing a negligence lawsuit against the town for injuries suffered on the job. Newsday verified the authenticity of the records with a person familiar with the town's finances.
Newsday has published stories over the past several months based on other records Briggs provided to the newspaper, including a report on Oyster Bay officials entering into agreements with Singh to have the town indirectly guarantee his loans and another report on Singh arranging and paying for travel expenses for County Executive Edward Mangano and Oyster Bay officials. Briggs has said he gave those same documents to federal law enforcement officials.
Last month, federal prosecutors charged Singh in a 13-count indictment that included bribing an Oyster Bay official with $50,000 to obtain loan guarantees from the town, failing to report $7 million in employee wages to the Internal Revenue Service to avoid paying taxes, fraudulently obtaining $950,000 in superstorm Sandy disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and obstruction of justice. Singh has pleaded not guilty.
The town entered into its first 20-year concession agreement with Singh in 2000, at the town golf course. The agreement required him to provide food and beverage services at town facilities, make capital improvements and pay a monthly licensing fee to the town. The town board repeatedly extended that agreement so that it now ends in 2070. In 2005, Singh entered into an agreement with the town at Tobay Beach, where that arrangement has been similarly extended to 2065.
Singh sought to extend his concessions deals with Oyster Bay last year at a time when the IRS had a $2.3 million lien against some of his companies, which also had problems with several creditors, according to public records, emails and other records obtained by Newsday. His companies were tens of thousands of dollars behind to one creditor, Axis Capital Inc., and in an April 14, 2014, email to the lender, Singh asked them to remove a delinquency notice from credit bureau reports.
"This reporting is causing my other lenders to panic," Singh wrote. "This would be a great help for me if this reporting with credit bureaus is canceled, as it would also help me dig myself out of this financial turmoil."
Axis later sued Singh for breach of contract and settled a $1 million claim for about $700,000, records show.
The financial documents Newsday obtained show Singh was supposed to be making monthly payments to the town of $7,311 at the beginning of last year. But by April 2014, Singh had missed six consecutive payments and owed the town $58,492.
Another Singh company with a concession agreement at the town golf course was also behind in April 2014, according to the records. At a time when monthly payments of $5,874 were due, Singh owed $29,199 and had missed six payments over the previous 15 months. His company also owed the town $92,504 for utilities at the golf course and had missed nine payments, the records show.
Smithtown-based attorney Howard Greenberg, who represents Singh on business matters, did not return requests for comment. The town's agreements with Singh show that failure to make "timely" monthly payments is supposed to trigger a 60-day notice being sent from the town to Singh's companies. If the concessionaire fails to cure the default or diligently attempt to cure it within that time, then the town can terminate the agreement for cause.
Had the town terminated the agreements due to default, it would have triggered payments of $3.5 million by the town that would go, indirectly, to Singh's lenders. It also may have triggered payments up to $20 million under loan guarantees that are now in dispute.
The town's outside counsel, Jon Pickhardt, a partner at New York-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, has said a litigation scenario exists in which the town could terminate the agreement for cause and owe nothing to Singh. Pickhardt declined to elaborate.
Effort to catch up
Sometime in late June or early July, the town sent a 60-day notice to Singh about his arrears, and by the end of August he had caught up on his payments, town officials and Singh's attorneys have said.
Venditto first publicly acknowledged that Singh was behind on his payments at a July 7 town board meeting, but did not provide details.
"He's lagging behind but he has made significant payments towards arrears and he is struggling mightily to stay with us," Venditto said at the meeting.
At the Aug. 4 town board meeting, Venditto informed the public for the first time that Singh owed what amounted to roughly 10 months back rent at the golf course, even after making an effort to catch up on his payments.
"I believe that from the end of July, he was almost current at Tobay," Venditto said. "I think he was down about $10,000 at Tobay and about $65,000 at the golf course. And in the weeks or couple months leading up to that, he had made significant inroads into getting it down to those numbers."
Venditto said at an Oct. 13 town board meeting that he's finished talking about the town's relationship with Singh.
"I've answered all the questions that I'm going to answer about Singh, based on advice of counsel, and based upon all that is going on," Venditto said. "I'd be foolish to comment any further."