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Venditto changes tune on possible town debt to Harendra Singh

Supporters of Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto

Supporters of Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto -- most of whom are construction union members -- held signs, applauded and shouted insults at public speakers who questioned Venditto about the town's concessions deals with indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh at a town board meeting on Sept. 29, 2015 at Oyster Bay Town Hall. Credit: Newsday / Ted Phillips

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said Tuesday the town could get out of its concessions deals with indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh without paying a penalty.

His comments, made during a raucous town board meeting, reversed previous statements in which he said the town could owe $2 million if it terminated the concessions deals.

Venditto said that in light of the events of the past 30 days and in consultation with outside counsel, he was incorrect in his earlier statements about liabilities over concessions deals at the golf course and Tobay Beach.

"The town of Oyster Bay will not owe any money to anybody, except our legal fees," Venditto said. He did not elaborate and refused to answer questions before or after the meeting.

Singh's attorney, Howard Greenberg of Smithtown, disagreed, saying the town would have to make payments to Singh for improvements to the properties. "There have been significant improvements at the premises; those improvements have been acknowledged by the town as well as the lenders," he said in an email. "In the event of any termination, payment will be required to be made in accordance with the agreements."

On Sept. 9, federal authorities charged Singh with 13 counts of bribery, fraud, impeding the Internal Revenue Service, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. Singh pleaded not guilty.

Venditto did not address $20 million of loan guarantees for Singh, which the indictment said town officials signed. The town's outside counsel, Jon Pickhardt, a partner at New York-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, has said those guarantees are unauthorized and invalid, but Greenberg has said they are legitimate.

In an interview Tuesday, Pickhardt said that although one agreement with Singh would require a $2 million payment if terminated before 2025, it is possible to end the agreement for cause and owe nothing.

"If we ended up in a legal dispute situation . . . there are certainly scenarios where it would be the town's strong position that it didn't owe anything," Pickhardt said. The board Tuesday approved paying his firm $250,000 for services since May 1.

At the meeting, Venditto lashed out at critics who have questioned the Singh deals.

"There are people out there rooting against the town; shame on them," Venditto said.

Charles Gaulkin, 81, a retiree from Oyster Bay, asked Venditto how the town entered into its concession agreements. "People of the town deserve to have a full explanation of how this came about," Gaulkin said.

Venditto repeated that the town would owe nothing and said further explanations could jeopardize the town's legal position.

About three dozen construction union members who came to show support for Venditto heckled Gaulkin, beginning a series of taunts and interruptions leveled at speakers who questioned town policies.

Venditto tolerated the outbursts, which included obscenities, but asked the speakers to hurry up.

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