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Power on Trial: How much evidence is enough?

Edward Mangano, left, and his attorney Kevin Keating

Edward Mangano, left, and his attorney Kevin Keating walk out of federal court in Central Islip on Monday. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Legal fees

The Rivkin Radler law firm and partner William Savino’s relationship to Edward Mangano, Nassau’s former county executive who once worked at the firm, came up in arguments before jurors entered the courtroom Tuesday.

At issue was whether federal prosecutors could enter into evidence some of the legal fees the county paid the politically connected firm after Mangano, a Republican, was elected county executive.

“It is life, it is politics, it is what happens,” U.S. District Court Judge Joan M. Azrack, who is presiding over the corruption trial of Mangano, former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and Mangano’s wife, Linda, said at one point.

Azrack noted that Republican administrations tend to bring in firms associated with Republicans, and that Democrats likely did the same when Rep. Thomas Suozzi was Nassau’s Democratic county executive.

The judge, in elaborating on why she believed evidence about Rivkin Radler fees wasn’t necessary to illustrate the relationship between Mangano and Savino, said evidence already introduced during the nine-week trial was “quite strong” that the two were close.

“I think this jury is not stupid,” Azrack said at another point, before hearing more discussion, including an assertion from Matthew Brissenden, Mangano’s attorney, that inclusion of the information would be “unfair and misleading.”

After a few minutes more, the judge announced her decision from the bench.

“I am going to exclude it,” she said.

Campaign contributions

Next up on the agenda — again before jurors entered the courtroom — was the question of whether Azrack would allow testimony about Anthony Gulino, owner of Residential Fence Corp. and Laser Industries, and his campaign contributions to Mangano.

“I believe it that it shows the existing relationship between Gulino and Mr. Mangano,” argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz. “It paints a full picture of their relationship.”

Kevin Keating, Mangano’s attorney, disagreed. “He knew Edward Mangano before Edward Mangano became county executive,” Keating said, pointing out that Gulino also tended to support candidates who favored building and construction projects.

Azrack, after hearing more discussion, said she would permit testimony about the campaign contributions, but instruct jurors on how to consider it.

According to court papers filed in an earlier, unrelated motion, Gulino, after fixing a broken railing at Mangano’s Bethpage home in 2012, received a check from Mangano for the full cost of the repair.

Sometime later, prosecutors contend, Gulino paid Mangano an equal amount in cash, after which Mangano allegedly asked Singh to launder the money for him.

Keating has said, “The purported Gulino event is fiction.”

The contractor is expected to be one of the prosecution’s final witnesses.

Unusual transaction

“Have you ever seen a transaction like this?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine M. Mirabile asked Donald Hoffmann, an auditor from Cullen & Danowski, LLP of Port Jefferson Station, which has the Town of Oyster Bay as a client.

“I have not, no,” Hoffmann replied, referring to the town’s decision to back loans for former restaurateur and town concessionaire Harendra Singh. “I haven’t seen anything like this.”

Over two days as a prosecution witness, Hoffmann testified that he did not know about the town’s potential liability for the loans until he received a telephone call almost three years ago from a Newsday reporter — and then went to town officials to find out what was going on.

In August, 2015, Newsday reported that town officials had helped Singh, a private businessman, secure loans by arranging to have the town pay lenders in case of defaults. The move, according to a story by reporters Sandra Peddie and Ted Phillips, potentially exposed town “taxpayers to millions of dollars in liabilities.”

On Tuesday, Hoffmann noted that it was the town’s responsibility to prepare annual financial statements. He testified that it would have been important for auditors to know about the loans.

“It would be important to understand the nature of the transactions and the likelihood of exposure for the town,” Hoffmann said.

During cross examination, Marc Agnifilo, Venditto’s attorney, asked whether it also would have been important for auditors to know about bribes Singh paid to Frederick Mei, Oyster Bay’s former deputy town attorney, and others.

“We rely on the client to provide us with information through the course of the audit,” Hoffmann testified. “ . . . We have to be able to trust the client.”

Best places to live

Christine Crowley, a certified independent professional municipal adviser for Fiscal Advisors and Marketing, Inc. smiled Tuesday afternoon when Agnifilo, Venditto’s lawyer, brought up Money Magazine.

“You know,” Agnifilo said.

Crowley knew.

In 2016, Oyster Bay and Huntington towns made Money Magazine’s list of Top 50 Best Places to Live in America.

“A part of Long Island, Oyster Bay is comprised of 18 villages and hamlets, with these areas merging to provide a small community feeling away from the congestion of New York City,” the magazine raved. “Manhattan is just a train ride away, though, and this city access expands Oyster Bay into a cultural jumping-off point for many of its residents, ranking especially high among towns of similar size.”

The question was one of the few that elicited smiles from Crowley, who spent most of her time on the stand testifying about the impact of Oyster Bay officials’ decision not to divulge some $20 million in Singh loans backed by the town.

She said such information would have been important for investors and others to know.

Telephone

The last prosecution witness of the day was Donna Neiland, a Nassau County employee who was tasked with updating the county’s telephone system.

As part of that effort, she took a photograph of one of the phones in Mangano’s office.

Two of the extensions shown in the photo showed up earlier in the trial, on a page of notes Savino took.

One number on the note matched an extension button on the county executive’s phone; the other, the extension for the Nassau employee responsible for handling his calendar.

During Savino’s testimony, weeks ago, he said he had no independent recollection of when the notes were taken. Nor did he recall whether he had a conversation with Mangano in the days before an April 2010 meeting where, other witnesses testified, Mangano and Venditto tasked lawyers from Rivkin Radler to find a legal way for the town to back Singh’s loans.

On Monday, the prosecution introduced into evidence a chart summarizing calls in April 2010 involving multiple officials, witnesses and others.

The chart, projected up on the courtroom’s largest screen, showed three calls between a number for Mangano and two numbers belonging to Savino — with lines drawn between photographs of the two men.

It also showed three calls between a number belonging to Singh and the Rivkin Radler law firm office, and three more between Singh’s number and two numbers belonging to Savino.

Keating, on cross examination of the FBI special agent who did the analysis on Monday, repeatedly pressed the point that the chart did not necessarily mean that the subjects were talking to each other about Singh loans.

The FBI agent, William Sena, agreed. “I was asked to look at the telephone numbers,” he said at one point.

Keating, in cross examining Neiland on Wednesday, entered a defense photo into evidence, showing Mangano at his desk, with a different phone in the background.

“There is more than one phone in his office,” Neiland testified.

On redirect from prosecutor Gatz, Neiland rebuffed an implication from Keating that the phone in the picture she took may have belonged to another official, Chuck Ribando, Mangano’s former deputy county executive for public safety.

“That is definitely not Chuck Ribando’s phone,” Nieland testified. “He had a totally different phone.”

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