Kamlesh Mehta, a close associate of indicted Bethpage restaurateur Harendra Singh, has resigned as Nassau County's director of business and economic development, amid a Newsday examination of his role in the county administration.
Mehta secured his $79,000-a-year county position despite a checkered financial past that includes a home foreclosure, two bankruptcy filings and lawsuits against him from creditors who allege Mehta owes thousands in unpaid bills. The state of New York also issued a $10,827 tax warrant against Mehta's private business in February.
Mehta, 55, told Newsday he would only consent to an interview if the newspaper sent him questions in writing and agreed to publish his written answers in their entirety. Mehta also requested an advance copy of the story so that he could review it for inaccuracies. Newsday declined both requests.
Brian Nevin, spokesman for County Executive Ed Mangano, did not answer questions concerning Mangano's appointment of Mehta to a county job, or explain the circumstances leading to Mehta's decision to resign.
County attorney Carnell Foskey wrote in an email that Mehta fulfilled his job duties.
Between Sept. 23 and Sept. 28, Newsday made three Freedom of Information requests with Nassau County to determine Mehta's work product and his role in presenting honorary proclamations to Nassau's Indian American community. Mehta resigned Oct. 1, and county officials have not provided the requested records.
Mehta secured his position with Nassau County in January 2010, shortly after Mangano's election as county executive. Mehta, the publisher of The South Asian Times, a local Indian-American weekly, bragged to friends that the pro-Mangano advertisements in his publication provided the difference in Mangano's narrow margin of victory. Landing a job in Mangano's administration enhanced Mehta's stature in the Indian-American community, associates said, and he was seen as a conduit to influential county politicians.
State pension records show Mehta reported working full time at his county job. In addition, Mehta continued his outside business interests, which included publishing The South Asian Times, buying and selling diamonds and brokering loans.
Records obtained by Newsday show Mehta arranged financing in at least one instance for Singh, who was arrested last month on federal charges of fraud and bribery related to two lucrative beach concessions he operated for the town of Oyster Bay. Singh has pleaded not guilty.
Newsday published a story last month that stated Singh allowed Mangano and his family to eat for free at his restaurants and also employed Mangano's wife, Linda, in a $104,000-a-year job. Nassau Deputy County Executive Ed Ward said Ed Mangano always paid for his meals, and he has not been charged with wrongdoing. Ed and Linda Mangano have repeatedly declined to answer questions.
Mehta's Facebook page includes pictures of him handing out county proclamations to fellow Indian-Americans, burnishing his image in the community as a successful businessman. But state and county records show that before joining the Mangano administration, Mehta had troubles with his finances.
A bank foreclosed on Mehta's Woodmere home in 1999, after he and his wife defaulted on their $222,094 mortgage. Mehta filed for bankruptcy the same year after failing to pay his mortgage, as well as an additional $97,000 to a diamond dealer. Mehta agreed to a payment plan and withdrew the bankruptcy filing in January 2001. Eight months later, Mehta again filed for bankruptcy after failing to follow the payment plan.
In 2008, records show Santosh Dugar, of Charu Gems in New York, filed a lien in Nassau County Supreme Court against Mehta for $22,885. Dugar said Mehta never paid him for diamonds he had purchased, but he ultimately gave up the effort to collect because he said it would have cost too much to pursue the case.
"For my side, it's a gone case," Dugar said. "What's happened has happened."
The same year, Mehta and a partner founded Forsythe Media Group, which publishes The South Asian Times and two magazines. His partner, who asked not to be named and declined to comment, left the venture after only a few months.
Mangano hired Mehta in January 2010 as executive assistant to the deputy county executive for housing and he was promoted to director of business and economic development in 2014.
Mehta's daughter, Apurvi, was hired to be deputy director of the Nassau County Office of Community Development in 2011. Records show Apurvi Mehta earned about $74,000 in that job and then moved to another public job with the Nassau Health Care Corp. as a project manager in April 2014. Salary records for that job were not immediately available.
More claims filed
Despite his successful veneer as both a county official and local publisher, more creditors have come forward in recent years to file claims against Mehta.
Jagdish Agarwal, a diamond dealer based in Plano, Texas, filed a lawsuit in Nassau County Supreme Court against Mehta in 2012 that alleges Mehta failed to pay him $18,200 in October 2007 for a 3.150-carat princess-cut diamond. Mehta denied the allegation.
According to an online court docket, the lawsuit was dismissed in December 2013. However, Agarwal's attorney said he has not been notified that the suit was dismissed and considers it a pending matter.
Agarwal said in a recent interview that Mehta first gave him two checks that bounced and then ultimately never paid him.
In January, Krishna Mehta, a certified public accountant with no relation to Kamlesh Mehta, filed suit alleging he failed to repay a loan for $227,606.
In response to the claim, Kamlesh Mehta stated he made an "immature and ignorant business transaction" and misunderstood the documents he signed.
Krishna Mehta said Kamlesh Mehta first approached him in the early 1990s about arranging a $10,000-$15,000 loan to a friend. When that deal worked out favorably, he said Kamlesh Mehta approached him about a second loan, which also worked out. Then Krishna Mehta bought a 2-carat diamond from him, and was again satisfied with the transaction.
Krishna Mehta says he now believes Kamlesh Mehta used those early deals to earn his trust, only to betray him later. The big deal came when Kamlesh Mehta asked him to make a $125,000 loan to his business partner. Kamlesh Mehta gave him what he said was $250,000 worth of diamonds, placed in a sealed envelope, to use as collateral. Kamlesh Mehta also pledged to repay the loan himself if the borrower defaulted.
Krishna Mehta said he received small repayments on the loan over the years until the borrower died. Krishna Mehta pressed for repayment of the loan, but Kamlesh Mehta said he didn't have the money but would continue to make the small payments.
However, after Kamlesh Mehta obtained his job with the county in 2010, Krishna Mehta said Kamlesh Mehta acted as if he was too powerful, and too connected, to pay off the loan.
Friends who believe in karma told Krishna Mehta not to file a lawsuit because Kamlesh Mehta's stars are "very good," he said. But in January, he filed a lawsuit in Nassau County Supreme Court to collect $227,606, the original amount of the loan, plus interest.
"I'm suing him because he's a bad man, and it's the principle," Krishna Mehta said.
The diamonds are in a safe, still in the original, sealed envelope, which was signed by Kamlesh Mehta. Krishna Mehta says he is convinced they are fake. If the diamonds were real, Kamlesh Mehta would cash them in and have plenty of money to pay off the loan.
"They'd be worth $2 million by now if they were real," he said.
Krishna Mehta said he hopes he has a chance of recovering his money.
"Maybe his stars are changing," he said. "Nothing stays forever."