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Political impact of Singh case may be minimal, analysts say

Harendra Singh leaves federal court in Central Islip,

Harendra Singh leaves federal court in Central Islip, Sept. 9, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

Federal charges that a prominent restaurateur bribed a Town of Oyster Bay employee for favorable terms on public concession contracts may have minimal political impact, analysts said, unless higher-ranking officials are ultimately connected.

Harendra Singh, of Laurel Hollow, was arrested Wednesday on charges including bribery and wire fraud, with authorities saying he paid the now-former town employee $50,000 over more than three years while also funding his overseas vacations and a luxury car lease.

In exchange, the federal complaint said, the employee -- who isn't named but whom sources identified as ex-Deputy Town Attorney Frederick Mei -- helped ensure that Oyster Bay took the unusual step of guaranteeing $20 million in loans that Singh obtained for concessions he operated at town facilities, effectively leaving taxpayers on the hook if Singh went into default.

Mei was not charged with a crime, and a spokeswoman for Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, a Republican who is seeking his 10th two-year term in November, declined to comment Wednesday.

"Any time something like this comes out, whether it hits an elected official or not, it raises the cynicism of the average voter as to what goes on in government," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who largely works with Republicans. "But by and large, it will end here unless there's a more direct tie to somebody."

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said town leaders may have to brace for opponents to try to tie them to the Singh case, but that the indictment does not provide clear ammo.

"Right now, this is really contained at a low level and there's not an obvious indication it goes any higher," Levy said. "So unless it does, I think it'll have minimal political impact."

Mei resigned on Aug. 31. Venditto at last week's town board meeting did not name Mei, but said a deputy town attorney had been a "bad apple" and that residents should "allow for the possibility that the town might have been victimized."

Oyster Bay Democrats have already used the Singh case to attack town Republicans, and Wednesday Robert Freier, a Democratic town board candidate, said Venditto "should do the honorable thing and resign."

"I find it hard to believe this is all because of some rogue deputy attorney," Freier said, noting that Venditto signed many of the town loan amendments and other documents.

Singh, who operates several of his own restaurants as well as the town concessions, has longtime ties to other prominent local leaders, including Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, of Bethpage.

Newsday reported last month that Singh arranged and paid for several vacations for the Mangano family as well as for Mei. Mangano, who has been described as "lifelong friends" with Singh, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

A Mangano spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment. Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello declined to comment on the Singh arrest, with his spokesman saying, "This man [Singh] has nothing to do with the Nassau County Republican Committee."

Singh and his companies in recent years have contributed $10,500 to Venditto and about $21,000 to the County Republican Committee, according to state elections board records.

With Ted Phillips

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