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Power on Trial: Scenes from an Italian restaurant

Christiano's in Syosset on Feb. 27, 2009.

Christiano's in Syosset on Feb. 27, 2009. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Bottle of white, bottle of red

No, Billy Joel’s name hasn’t been mentioned, not once, during the trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife, Linda, and former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto.

But in testimony Monday and again on Tuesday, Christiano’s, the supposed inspiration for Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” was.

Singh on Monday testified that he bought Christiano’s, in Syosset, from Frederick Ippolito, Oyster Bay Town’s former commissioner for planning and economic development in 2012, after first unsuccessfully trying to help Ippolito sell it.

“Then he said, ‘Why don’t you buy this restaurant,’ and I did,” Singh testified. “I had to help Fred Ippolito get this off his headache.”

Ippolito, Singh testified, “said he wanted $160,000 for the restaurant — $110,000 in checks and $50,000 in cash.”

And that’s what Singh, who would abandon the restaurant in 2015, did.

On Tuesday, under cross-examination from Mangano’s attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, Singh was asked about the restaurant sale again as Keating pressed about Singh’s relationship with Ippolito.

“You gave him $50,000 cash in a bag?” Keating asked.

“Yes,” Singh replied.

Later, Singh acknowledged that Ippolito had been helpful in a consulting company Singh began — wherein clients paid him to facilitate permits, architectural plans and other matters with the town of Oyster Bay.

“I had a good relationship with Freddie Ippolito,” Singh testified.

“He was corrupt, correct?” Keating asked a few moments later.

“I’m not qualified to say that,” Singh replied.

Ippolito was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty in 2016 to federal tax charges. An appellate court vacated the conviction last year because Ippolito died in prison while the case was on appeal.

Family matters

Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda, had plentiful backup before Keating began his first full day cross-examining Singh.

Mangano’s mom and dad were there.

So were the couple’s two sons, Sal and Al.

Along with in-laws and other family supporters enough to pretty much fill two long rows of spectator seats on the “defense” side of the courtroom.

During trials, especially long ones, it is not unusual for spectators to separate — much as it does during a wedding into a groom’s side and a bride’s side — and generally settle behind prosecutors or defense attorneys.

Seats for lawyers and court employees are reserved in the first row, on both sides. And press seats are in the second row — also on both sides.

Meanwhile, many of the local observers from Oyster Bay — those who have been present since the trial began, that is — seem to have settled in on the prosecution’s side.

Singh on Day Six

The Singh jurors are seeing under cross-examination seems far more feisty than the witness they heard during prosecution questioning.

On Tuesday, Singh pushed back several times against Keating’s assault — from correcting Mangano’s defense attorney on dates and names to doubling down on assertions that although Singh could have moved money from a capital account to a personal account, it was something he never did.

The two bantered plentiful times.

At one point, Keating pressed Singh on whether former Oyster Bay deputy town attorney Frederick Mei — a prosecution witness-to-be who has pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges — was corrupt.

“He corruptly assisted you so that something would happen?” Keating asked.

“I would say he helped me in what was good for my business,” Singh answered.

Keating, bearing down, asked again.

“I guess if you took money, you are corrupt,” Singh conceeded. “If he took money, you can say he was corrupt.”

And there were to be more, and mostly polite, back and forths to come as the day wore on — with Keating seeking testimony on one matter, and Singh answering on another.

“That was not my question,” Keating said during the morning testimony.

“But that is my answer,” Singh replied, to laughter from the spectator section — as jurors, as they had been all morning, sat in rapt attention.

Separation anxiety

Linda Mangano, after meeting voluntarily with federal officials for a second time, asked Singh if he was bribing Mei.

Singh told her he wasn’t, he testified Monday.

Mei, later, asked Singh if he was bribing Edward Mangano.

“I said, ‘No, I’m not,’ ” Singh responded.

Singh has pleaded guilty to bribing Mei, who in 2015 secretly pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and kickbacks. Mei is expected to testify for the prosecution.

Singh testified Monday that he told Linda Mangano that he wasn’t bribing Mei — when, he said, he actually was — because “I like to keep everything compartmentalized.”

He said he wanted such dealings with a single person to be known to that person alone.

During a conversation recorded while Mei was wearing a wire, Singh testified, “Fred was asking me what Ed had done for me and I said Ed had done nothing for me,” Singh testified.

But, he said, he was telling Mei a lie.

“I didn’t want Fred Mei to know what my dealings were with Ed and Linda Mangano.”

Food fight

Singh testified that he got called on the carpet by Oyster Bay town officials after he handled a golf outing at The Woodlands in Woodbury for a union gathering — and the event ran out of food.

The event was for the town’s Civil Service Employees Association and, Singh testified, attendees were supposed to get “1 hot dog and 1 hamburger.” But, he said, attendees were walking away with “three or four hot dogs and three or four hamburgers.”

“We could not keep up,” he said.

After the union president complained, Singh testified Monday, he was summoned to Oyster Bay Town Hall South in Massapequa by former town Parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino — where Singh explained that union members had taken more food than the venue had anticipated.

“I don’t care,” Singh quoted Nocerino as replying. “We have to keep the union and the union president happy.”

To that end, Nocerino told him, “You have to do next year’s outing for free,” Singh testified.

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