The Nassau County district attorney's office received documents from a whistleblower in 2013 suggesting that politically connected restaurateur Harendra Singh secured illegal loan guarantees from Oyster Bay officials and arranged and paid for vacations for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, but district attorney investigators never followed up on the information, the whistleblower said.
The individual later provided the same records to Newsday, which published separate stories in August on Mangano's vacation arrangements and Singh's loan guarantees. The whistleblower said he also gave the records to the FBI after concluding that the district attorney's office wouldn't pursue his complaints. Federal authorities arrested Singh on Sept. 9 and charged him with 13 counts of fraud, obstruction and bribery, including bribing an unnamed official in exchange for arranging to have Oyster Bay guarantee about $20 million in private loans.
The whistleblower is former Oyster Bay Constable Christopher Briggs, who failed in an attempt to win a seat on the town's board in 2013. Briggs requested anonymity when he first gave the records to Newsday but agreed to be identified for this story.
Briggs said that in the fall of 2013, he met with Chuck Ribando, who at the time was executive chief of then-District Attorney Kathleen Rice's investigative division, and two other district attorney investigators who worked for Ribando. Briggs said he turned over a stack of documents more than 2 inches thick, as well as a computer flash drive containing more records. Briggs said he answered questions asked by the investigators during an hourlong meeting in Ribando's office.
Ribando confirmed that he held the meeting with Briggs and two investigators and said he recalled Briggs providing them with records. Ribando said one of the investigators, Robert McHugh, took Briggs' records for review. Ribando said McHugh never followed up with him about what was in the records.
"I never really looked at the stack of papers," Ribando said.
McHugh, who still works for the district attorney's office, did not return a call for comment.
Shams Tarek, spokesman for acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, said he spoke with McHugh, who told him he does not remember Briggs mentioning trips or loan guarantees. McHugh reviewed the records Briggs gave them, Tarek said, and he does not have any records related to those issues. Tarek said he did not speak with the other unnamed investigator who met with Briggs.
Tarek said he could not find any of the records related to vacations or loan guarantees that Briggs said he gave the district attorney's office and does not have a system for tracking documents given to them.
Ribando said he remembers complaints Briggs made about political signs and other more trivial matters but does not recall Briggs specifically mentioning Singh's loan guarantees or Mangano's vacations.
"As far as I remember, Ed's name never came up," Ribando said.
Ribando left the district attorney's office in 2014 after Rice was elected to Congress, and he is now Mangano's deputy county executive for public safety.
At the time Briggs went to the district attorney's office, Rice was serving as co-chair of the state Moreland Commission, created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate public corruption. Rice declined to comment for this story.
Rice's spokesman, Coleman Lamb, wrote in an email: "We are not in a position to confirm or deny prior investigations of the DA's office. Such questions should be lodged with the DA's office."
Briggs said he left the district attorney's office after the meeting not expecting them to investigate. "They really weren't too excited," he said.
Briggs said he asked Ribando if he needed to fill out any paperwork because he had given them records, but he said Ribando told him it was unnecessary.
Ribando disputed that: "I would never say that to somebody," he said.
Records preceded charges
Briggs said he followed up about a month later with Ribando but felt there was little interest in his information, so he took the records to the FBI and to Newsday.
Briggs said the records he provided to the district attorney's office are the same ones he gave to the FBI and Newsday. The records include emails, hotel reservations and boarding passes appearing to show that Singh had arranged and paid for expensive vacations for Mangano and his family in July 2012 and 2013. Those trips -- to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos -- overlapped with ones that Singh planned for himself and members of his own family. The trip to the Turks and Caicos cost $17,498, according to an email obtained by Newsday and sent to Singh by the travel agent who handled the arrangements.
The records do not indicate whether Mangano ever reimbursed Singh. Mangano has declined to comment about the trips, and his office has not provided Newsday with his calendar for the dates of those trips.
Kevin Keating, Mangano's criminal-defense attorney, has said that the Manganos and Singhs are lifelong friends. "There is absolutely no story here," he told Newsday in August.
Briggs also provided Newsday with documents related to Oyster Bay Town guaranteeing private loans Singh took out to pay for capital improvements at the restaurants he operates at town beaches. The documents include an amendment to a concession agreement with Singh that required the town to pay if Singh defaulted on the loan, as well as internal emails that showed an official struggling with how to get around a New York State constitutional ban on municipalities guaranteeing private debt.
Federal authorities have charged Singh with 13 counts of bribery, fraud, impeding the Internal Revenue Service, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. Among the allegations in the federal complaint is that Singh gave an unnamed Oyster Bay official $50,000 in bribes, a $36,000 BMW lease and a trip to south Asia with a relative. Those bribes were allegedly in exchange for that official, identified by sources as former Deputy Town Attorney Frederick Mei, arranging for the town to guarantee loans totaling $20 million in principal and interest in private loans obtained by Singh.
Singh has pleaded not guilty.
Mei's criminal defense attorney, Gary Schoer of Lake Success, said his client has not been arrested or charged. He declined to answer questions.
An official close to the case said the federal investigation is continuing. There was no indication during Singh's courtroom appearance that the federal case would extend to county officials, and Mangano has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Tarek said his office is cooperating with federal officials on the Singh investigation but declined to elaborate.
'This doesn't seem right'
Briggs, 39, grew up in Oyster Bay and realized a dream when he got a bay constable's job in Oyster Bay. But he said he clashed with Oyster Bay officials and that cost him his career.
On Jan. 19, 2012, Briggs fell out of an Oyster Bay patrol boat and tore a rotator cuff, resulting in six months out of work. While recovering from surgery, records show, Briggs filed a notice of claim in March 2012 to sue the town for negligence in failing to maintain the patrol boat.
When he tried to return to work, Briggs said, Oyster Bay officials declined to put him on the schedule, so he went to an attorney for help. Ultimately, in the fall of 2012, he said the town notified him through a voice mail that he had been laid off.
Briggs said he first approached the district attorney's office in 2012 to complain about bay constables misusing town property. By May 2013, Briggs had announced that he was running for the town board, and he continued to meet with investigators from the district attorney's office.
Upset by what he considered to be retaliation against employees who complained to the town, Briggs said he set out to find evidence of public corruption in Oyster Bay. With the help of friends, including some members of law enforcement and town employees, Briggs said he compiled computer files, screen shots and documents, including some recovered from a recycling bin.
As the son of a land developer, Briggs said he was comfortable reading contracts and loan documents. What he'd collected about the town's relationship with Singh left him troubled.
He recalled thinking, "This doesn't seem right that a governmental administration is guaranteeing his loans."
Briggs said he took the records to a friend who is a private attorney. The friend told him he thought the records revealed criminal wrongdoing and that he should go to the district attorney.
He took them to the district attorney's office in October 2013. He said he specifically discussed the loan guarantees and turned over records related to that and the Mangano trips.
Ribando said he remembered the meeting and that Briggs complained about the size of political signs and about an opponent taking down his signs.
Ribando said that he actually fast-tracked Briggs' complaints by meeting with him personally and by not referring him to the complaints bureau, which is the office's standard procedure for handling complaints. As chief of the district attorney's investigations division, Ribando said he was Rice's "most trusted" adviser and oversaw at least five different bureaus, as well as investigators.
"I don't disregard cases that come in front of me," Ribando said. He said it was the investigator's responsibility to come back to him if he thought there was something to follow up, and that his investigator, McHugh, never did that.
FBI steps in
On Oct. 24, 2013, Briggs sued Oyster Bay in federal court over illegal campaign activities. He had photographed and videotaped town employees using town-owned vehicles while removing Briggs' political signs and had also videotaped them putting up his opponents' signs on town time. In June, the town settled the case by agreeing to pay his lawyer $5,000 and to instruct employees that they are prohibited from participating in political activities during work hours. Sometime after that, Briggs said a friend told him that the FBI had interviewed him about Mangano. That is what prompted him to take his records to the FBI in early 2014, Briggs said.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
Briggs said he met with federal investigators numerous times in the FBI's Melville office and at his home in Oyster Bay. Briggs said several times he included Oyster Bay Town employees in those meetings with federal investigators. One town employee, who asked not to be named, confirmed that he went with Briggs to talk to the FBI about corruption in Oyster Bay.
Briggs is pleased with the response by federal authorities but is disappointed that the district attorney's office never followed up with him.
"They'll appease you, have you come in, see what you got," he said, "and then figure out a way to bury it."