This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Bart Jones, Robert E. Kessler and Andrew Smith. It was written by Jones.
Witnesses in the retrial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda, testified Thursday that county officials took unusual steps to help award a lucrative contract for bread and rolls at the county jail to a businessman who later pleaded guilty to bribing the politician.
The contract typically was worth about $200,000 a year, and called for providing 150,000 loaves of white bread, 216,000 bagels and other items to the Nassau County jail. It was awarded in 2012 to Harendra Singh, the Manganos’ longtime friend, ending a decade-long run by a Rockland County bakery.
Federal prosecutors say Edward Mangano tried to steer the contract to a Massapequa bakery owned by Singh and his wife, Ruby, in return for bribes. Edward Mangano’s attorney, Kevin Keating, has suggested that it was the county legislature’s then presiding officer, the late Peter Schmitt of Massapequa, who pressured purchasing department officials, rather than his client. The bakery was in Schmitt’s district.
A county official in charge of purchasing food, Linda Mills, said Thursday that Schmitt never pressured her directly.
But her boss testified he had felt “uncomfortable” with the pressure that Schmitt’s staff and county officials were applying to him and his employees and eventually a deputy county executive under Edward Mangano ordered him to split the contract so that Singh’s company, San Remo, would share it with the Rockland bakery.
Rockland, however, had already indicated in its bid it would not accept a split contract.
“Is splitting the bid really awarding it to San Remo?” prosecutor Treinis Gatz asked Mills at one point.
Mills replied: “It is.”
The bread and rolls contract is a critical issue because, after the Manganos’ first trial ended in a mistrial in May due to a hung jury, some jurors told Newsday they had been poised to convict him by an 11-1 vote on the charges that relate to that contract.
Edward Mangano is accused of a scheme involving Singh, who has pleaded guilty to bribing him. Prosecutors say Singh’s bribes included a $450,000 “no-show job” for Linda Mangano, office and massage chairs, and five vacations in exchange for Edward Mangano steering him county contracts and influencing the Town of Oyster Bay to back $20 million in loans.
Linda Mangano, 55, is accused of lying to the FBI when questioned about the work for Singh.
Edward Mangano, 56, is charged with seven felony counts, including federal program bribery, honest services wire fraud, extortion and conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to the FBI.
The Manganos have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The witnesses being called in this trial also had testified in the first one.
On Thursday, Mills, who has been responsible for purchasing food for the jail since 2001, testified about the county’s usual process for selecting the bakery provider in 2012, and how the process of awarding the bread and rolls contracts differed.
During questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Treinis Gatz in the Central Islip court, Mills said food purchases are put out to bid and the county awards contracts to the lowest responsible bidder. From 2002 to 2012, she said, the vendor that had won the contract every year for bread and rolls was Rockland Bakery of upstate Nanuet, a large wholesale commercial baker.
She testified there had never been any problems with what Rockland delivered to the jail.
In 2012, Mills said, there were two bidders — Rockland and San Remo. Mills said she’d never heard of San Remo. She eventually recommended Rockland, since it was a high-volume manufacturer of baked goods, as opposed to Singh’s storefront, two-employee operation which she doubted could provide the large quantity of bread required.
On top of that, Rockland had a lower bid, she said.
But on May 7, 2012, Mills said, Deputy County Executive Rob Walker came by her office, a few blocks away from his office in Mineola. She said it was the first and only time anyone from a county executive’s office had ever visited in the 17 years she had worked there. Walker had questions about her contract recommendation, she said.
“Was that unusual?” Treinis Gatz asked.
“A little, yeah,” Mills said, but she explained to Walker how it all worked. “I was a little surprised he didn’t know all this, but I explained to the best of my ability.”
Walker, who was Mangano’s top deputy, is set to go on trial in April in a separate matter, on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI while trying to cover up an alleged $5,000 cash bribe he received from a county contractor in 2014. Walker’s current legal troubles were not mentioned in testimony.
Mills testified Thursday that during his visit, Walker referred to local law, but the purchasing department follows general municipal law, she said. Mills said she had no authority to give a contract to a company because it was local.
“That’s not allowed,” said Mills. “That would be improper.”
Mills later forwarded her email correspondences with Walker to her boss, Michael Schlenoff.
“I had to let him know what was happening with this contract,” she said. “There were questions that were being asked of me that had never been asked before.”
Asked by Treinis Gatz how she felt at the time, with her April recommendation lingering without a resolution and the contract deadline quickly approaching, Mills said: “I thought between all the emails . . . it was being stalled. It was maybe being steered to someone other than Rockland Bakery. . . . It was unusual. Something was not right.”
She also testified that Schmitt, the former majority leader of the legislature, never asked her do to anything on the bid.
Schlenoff on Thursday described emails he got from Walker and Chris Ostuni, the counsel for majority leader Schmitt, asking him why San Remo could not have some or all of the contract. He said it was common to get such inquiries from legislators and their staff, but unusual to get them from Walker.
He said he initially “felt fine” about all the inquiries but, as they continued, “I was getting uncomfortable with the pressure being applied.” At that time, he had not been asked to do anything illegal, Schlenoff testified, but he was becoming concerned about being pressured to undo his bid recommendation.
Walker eventually ordered him to split the contract, he said, though in the end San Remo withdrew and the contract ended up with Rockland, where it had begun.
On cross-examination by Keating, Schlenoff conceded it was “correct” when asked by Keating if “splitting a bid is perfectly permissible?”
Asked if bids were split “all the time,” Schlenoff answered: “yes.” But he also testified that splitting the contract in this situation was not ideal due to security and other concerns.
Also on cross-examination by Keating, Mills testified that she understood that purchasing was under Walker’s purview and that around the time he visited the department, purchasing was packing for a major move to another building a few blocks away.
Mills also agreed with Keating that the bids for Rockland and San Remo bakeries were the same, for about $185,000 of the approximately $194,000 bread and rolls contract.
“The other one wasn’t even on Long Island, in Rockland County?” Keating asked.
“Yes,” Mills replied.
But when Keating asked Mills about email correspondence mentioning Schmitt’s insistence on picking a local vendor, Mills said: “I don’t recall that, no.”
Schlenoff also testified that HR Singleton’s, the Bethpage restaurant owned by Singh, was awarded a food contract after superstorm Sandy in 2012, even though it was not on a list of county-registered vendors.
But because Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had declared a state of emergency, companies did not have to be on the list or go through a competitive bidding process, he said.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.