Federal agents arrested prominent Long Island restaurateur Harendra Singh in his Laurel Hollow home at dawn Wednesday on numerous criminal charges, including bribing a former Town of Oyster Bay employee with $50,000 in checks made out to cash and a $36,000 luxury-car lease, according to a federal indictment.
The bribes were aimed at getting the official to have the town give an "indirect guarantee" of $32 million in loans Singh tried to obtain for his businesses, including food concessions Singh operated at town beaches and a town golf course, according to the indictment filed in the federal court in Central Islip. Singh eventually got $20 million in loans as a result of the bribery, the indictment said.
In addition, Singh, 56, paid the expenses for the unnamed employee and a relative to travel to Asia in 2012, the indictment said.
Scheme to 'deprive citizens'
Six counts in the 13-count indictment charged Singh with a scheme to "deprive the citizens of the and the government of the [Town of Oyster Bay] of the honest services of through bribery and kickbacks."
Other charges included: defrauding the Internal Revenue Service by failing to report both millions of dollars in wages paid off-the-books to employees of Singh's restaurants and cash paid by restaurant customers; obstruction of justice for lying to FBI agents; and fraudulently collecting $950,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for falsely reporting damages to his Water's Edge restaurant in Long Island City, supposedly caused by superstorm Sandy.
In addition to the charges, the government wants Singh to forfeit properties he owns in Laurel Hollow and Locust Valley.
Several sources identified the town employee, who allegedly accepted the bribes, as former Deputy Town Attorney Frederick Mei, who recently resigned.
The bribes were supposedly paid in 10 checks made out to cash for $5,000 each; the lease payments on the BMW were paid out monthly by Singh, the indictment said.
Singh pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment in federal court in Central Islip. He left the courthouse without comment.
Mei's criminal defense attorney Gary Schoer, of Lake Success, declined to comment Wednesday. It was not clear Wednesday whether Mei had been charged.
Newsday has reported that Mei was involved in negotiating unusual deals in which the town helped back the loans Singh wanted for his business operations. The loans were supposedly for his business operations at town beaches and the town golf course.
Eastern District U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile said that Singh even drained off loan money that supposedly was to go for his operations on town properties for use in his other restaurants.
Mirabile also said that Singh kept several sets of books, one recording the actual income and salaries of his restaurants and others with false information.
The obstruction charge involves Singh lying to FBI agents who were searching his Bethpage office and telling them that he did not have a key to an office safe, the indictment said. When the agents left, Singh took out a key to the safe, removed $175,000 in cash and told employees to hide the money, according to the indictment.
At Singh's arraignment, Mirabile argued against granting him bail, saying he was a risk of flight back to his native India and an economic danger to the community. Mirabile said "Every day he was in business, he committed a fraud . . . the defendant lies for a living . . . He lives a life of lies."
But Singh's attorney, Joseph Conway, said the only reason prosecutors want to hold a defendant charged with white-collar crimes before trial was to pressure him because, he said, the Eastern District is anxious to make corruption cases as significant as those made by the Southern District in Manhattan.
"The government thinks he is a linchpin to political corruption in Nassau County," Conway said after court. "But I have told them numerous times that he doesn't have the information that they want."
U.S. Magistrate Kathleen Tomlinson released Singh on $5 million bond secured by property, and conditions including that he wear an electronic monitor and be allowed to work at his restaurants only three hours a day, operating them from home the rest of the time.
Tomlinson also ordered Singh to pay all employees' salaries on-the-books; pay all payroll taxes and not to discuss the case with employees or other potential witnesses.
Singh's restaurants, in addition to the Water's Edge, include H.R. Singleton's in Bethpage, the Woodlands in Woodbury on the Town of Oyster Bay golf course, and concessions on town beaches, the indictment said.
Several agencies on the case
Mirabile is prosecuting the case with assistant U. S. Attorneys Raymond Tierney and Lara Treinis Gatz. FBI agents worked on the case with agents of the IRS Criminal Division.
Marta Kane, a spokeswoman for the Town of Oyster Bay, declined to comment on Singh's arrest.
In a statement, Kelly Currie, the acting United States attorney for the Eastern District, said, "Harendra Singh ran his business through fraud and deceit, using bribes and kickbacks to tilt the playing field in the Town of Oyster Bay."
Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI's New York office, said: "The charges . . . describe an outpouring of greed. As alleged, Singh put local business owners at a significant disadvantage, siphoned funds from public money he was not entitled to, and sidestepped his responsibility to pay taxes on underreported income."
One of the tax fraud schemes involved Singh failing to report approximately $10 million in cash that his restaurants and concessions took in between 2009 and 2012, the indictment said. In a second scheme, according to the indictment, Singh concealed $7 million paid to employees of his restaurant paying them off-the-books, and, also not paying payroll taxes on the money, the indictment said.
If convicted of the charges, Singh faces 30 years to life in prison, according to Mirabile.
The case against Singh
One count of bribery.
One count of obstruction of justice.
One count of tampering with evidence
One count of conspiracy to deprive citizens and Town of Oyster Bay of honest services of an employee through wire fraud as part of a bribery scheme
Five counts of depriving citizens and the town of honest services of an employee through wire fraud.
Two counts related to tax evasion.
One count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by filing a false disaster relief claim involving damages to the Water's Edge restaurant in Long Island City.
One count of disaster fraud in the Water's Edge case.
Source: Federal indictment by grand jury in the Eastern District of New York.