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Power on Trial: The world according to Singh

Harendra Singh takes the stand in federal court

Harendra Singh takes the stand in federal court in Central Islip on Thursday. Credit: Sketch by Aggie Kenny

How Singh says things get done

Prosecutors in the corruption trial of former County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife, Linda, and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto promised jurors early on a lesson in how things — wink, wink — get done in Nassau.

And last week, in opening statements and in testimony solicited from Harendra Singh, the U.S. government’s first witness, prosecutors began to make good on that pledge.

Jurors heard about an Oyster Bay town resolution, all teed up and ready for the usual unanimous town board vote, in March 2010, which was tabled at the last minute after an outside attorney put the kibosh on a town-supported plan to have town taxpayers — in violation of the New York State Constitution — guarantee a line of credit for Singh, a very well-connected town concessionaire.

Singh wasn’t to be disappointed for long, however.

Because, as he testified, Singh managed to get a county executive, a town supervisor, a deputy town supervisor, a deputy town attorney, a politically connected law firm and the Oyster Bay Town Board to bend to his will.

Ultimately — as stated in an indictment and as Singh likely will testify next week — town officials signed off on a new plan to have Oyster Bay, over time, indirectly guarantee a line of credit and three loans totaling more than $20 million.

Singh, in testimony, also said he was a check kiter.

He said he paid half of his employees on the books, the others off the books — and that he kept books to keep track of both.

He said he had two sets of tax returns, one — which minimized his revenues — for the government and another — which minimized his expenses — for lenders.

And yet, with the assistance of elected officials, Singh managed, among other things, to carve out competition-free, multi-decade concessionaire agreements in Oyster Bay that — had it not all fallen down — would have kept him in business a few decades short of a new century.

He did so, he testified, through persistence, prodigious gift giving and, as it also turns out, by managing the town and county political system with far more acumen than he managed his restaurants.

Singh testified that the push to have Oyster Bay back his loans originated with him — at the insistence of potential lenders, who otherwise wouldn’t consider giving him money.

Picture Perfect

At one point on Thursday, a photograph taken of Mangano and Joseph Mondello, Nassau’s Republican Party chairman, was projected up on the biggest of several screens in the courtroom.

It was one of several taken during a fundraising gathering at the Crest Hollow Club in 2010, one that — as is usual for such gatherings — attracted party stars from across the county’s political galaxy.

Jurors looked toward the screens as Singh identified Peter Schmitt, then the legislature’s presiding officer, who is now deceased; George Maragos, the county comptroller, who later would ditch the GOP for Nassau Democrats.

Singh didn’t mention former County Executive Thomas Gulotta, former State Senate leader Joe Bruno, former Hempstead supervisor Anthony Santino, Dennis Dunne, a former county legislator and current Hempstead town council member, and Rob Walker, Mangano’s former chief deputy county executive, who also were in the crowd.

Singh testified that Mangano drove him to the fundraiser. And that he did not have to pay. He sat next to Mangano, photos show, and near Venditto, who was sitting at an adjacent table.

Singh did point toward former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato — whose image, for that brief time, graced screens in a courtroom in the courthouse named after him.

Visitor log

The Manganos and John Venditto had support from friends and family who sat in the spectator seats last week. Among those in attendance were Venditto’s son, former state Sen. Michael Venditto, and one of Mangano’s former deputy county executives, former county lawmaker Ed Ward.

The trial also attracted a number of lawyers, including Frederick Brewington, a civil rights attorney who has won judgments against Nassau; William Wexler, son of federal Judge Leonard Wexler, who defended Suffolk Conservative boss Edward Walsh, who was convicted of wire fraud and theft of government services at his recent trial; and William J. Keahon, who most recently defended John Bittrolff, who recently was convicted in the deaths of two women two decades ago.

Asked, and answered

Dick, a reader, via email, asks:

“Can you tell me if the entire jury was picked all on Monday and, if so, how were they able to get jurors on such a high profile case so quickly??”

Just to clarify, final jury selection, and the swearing in of 12 jurors, plus alternates, took place on Monday, but the process of selecting jurors in this case began earlier.

Prospective jurors filled out questionnaires on Feb. 28, and the field was narrowed down by the judge and lawyers on March 9. On Monday, lawyers — in a process called voir dire — questioned jurors and narrowed the field down to 51.

The final 12, plus alternates, were selected Monday — and sworn in as a panel on Tuesday, just before opening statements.

Last week, one of those 12 was excused, and replaced by an alternate.

Coming up next

Singh is slated to continue testifying for the prosecution on Monday, likely going into greater detail about loans indirectly guaranteed by the Town of Oyster Bay and other matters as the government continues to lay out its case against the Manganos and Venditto.

He will remain on the stand, likely for days after, as the attorney for each defendant takes a turn at cross-examining him.

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