This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Bart Jones, Robert E. Kessler and Andrew Smith. It was written by Jones.
Former restaurateur Harendra Singh took the stand Thursday in the corruption retrial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda, recounting perks he lavished on the couple after his friend took office.
Singh’s testimony as the government’s star witness in the first trial was laborious as prosecutor Catherine Mirabile buttressed the details with emails, texts, loan documents, receipts, photographs and other records. This time around, prosecutors aimed to limit Singh’s testimony and Mirabile — questioning him in a faster, more focused way — let Singh simply tell his story to the jury.
After Singh acknowledged he pleaded guilty to bribery last year, Mirable asked him: “Do you see anyone in this courtroom with whom you committed these crimes?”
“Ed Mangano,” Singh replied, pointing to the former politician at the defense table and describing what he was wearing.
“I bribed Ed Mangano and he did favors for me,” Singh said.
Mangano showed no emotion, but Linda Mangano appeared to cry.
Singh pleaded guilty to bribing public officials, including Edward Mangano, former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and to evading taxes.
De Blasio was never charged with a crime. In the first trial, Venditto was acquitted.
But the Manganos, whose first trial ended in a mistrial, are back for a second round. Edward Mangano is accused of accepting bribes from Singh in exchange for using his official influence to get Singh county contracts and $20 million in Town of Oyster Bay indirect loan guarantees.
Singh, 60, of Laurel Hollow, who revealed he now has a part-time job working for a real estate company, detailed the alleged bribes for Edward Mangano: a $450,000 “no-show job” for Linda Mangano, a massage chair, a watch for one of the Manganos’ sons, flooring in the Manganos’ bedroom, an office chair, five vacations to locales including Turks and Caicos and Niagara Falls, and free meals at Singh’s restaurants.
Edward Mangano, 56, faces seven felony counts, including federal program bribery, honest-services wire fraud, extortion and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Linda Mangano, 54, faces five felony counts, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.
Singh, who has a cooperation agreement with the government, was on the stand for 13 days and was the first witness called at the Manganos’ first trial last year. This time, he took the stand after several other witnesses.
After last year’s mistrial was declared, some jurors told Newsday they questioned Singh’s credibility, pointing to his criminal record.
Defense attorneys have argued that the gifts Singh provided were simply fruits of a 20-year friendship, branding Singh a liar intent on saving himself from a long prison stint by falsely implicating the Manganos.
Also Thursday, prosecutors played five different sound bites from wiretaps of Singh denying to various people that he had bribed Edward Mangano. Singh said these were recorded before he began cooperating and telling the truth.
In the last trial, the defense had used a recording of Singh to argue Singh was actually telling the truth before he was arrested and decided to seek leniency.
Under questioning by Mirabile, Singh was asked what he bought for the Manganos before Edward Mangano was elected county executive.
“Nothing,” Singh answered.
But after Edward Mangano assumed the highest perch in county government, Singh said he became indispensable to the county executive: “Whatever was needed, I took care of it.”
Singh said he gave Linda Mangano a salary of more than $100,000 annually through his Quinn Restaurant Corp., which owned his Long Island City restaurant Water’s Edge. She began getting paid from Singh in April 2010 — shortly after Edward Mangano was elected — and continued receiving paychecks until August 2014, totaling a little more than $450,000, Singh said.
“What was she expected to do?” asked Mirabile.
“Nothing,” Singh said.
Then Mirabile asked Singh how many contracts with Nassau County government he had before Edward Mangano was elected county executive. Singh answered: “None.”
After Mangano took office, Singh said, he received two: one to supply bread and rolls to the Nassau County Jail and another to provide food to emergency workers after superstorm Sandy. He said the Sandy contract was about $240,000, while the $200,000 bread and rolls contract was for a year and had the potential for an additional year. Singh conceded that he ultimately dropped out of the bread and rolls contract so was not paid for it.
Singh testified Thursday that he was introduced to what he called the “pay for play” culture in Nassau County when, during his early days as a small restaurant owner, he had a parking dispute with a nearby business that was politically connected.
“We realized the only way we can survive is join the politicians, pay to play,” Singh said. “I learned the only way you can survive in Nassau County and the Town of Oyster Bay is to pay these politicians.”
He testified that after he made a deal with Mangano to place the politician’s campaign headquarters right next to his restaurant HR Singletons, Mangano requested that Singh open a house account at the restaurant so he and his campaign staffers and volunteers could eat there.
Singh said people ate and drank all day, seven days a week. After the election, Singh said he submitted a bill totaling more than $57,000 but said Edward Mangano told him the price was too high.
“He called me and said, ‘This is too much. Reduce it. I can’t pay more than $15,000,’” Singh said, adding that the campaign ultimately paid $15,000.
“If Ed Mangano had not been the county executive, would you give him a $42,000 discount?” Mirabile asked.
“No,” said Singh.
Soon after, the requests for gifts started, Singh said.
Around the same time Singh was buying Mangano an office chair and giving him a $42,000 discount on food, Singh said his own businesses were faltering due to the economic downturn.
He needed financing to fulfill his contractual obligations to make improvements on facilities he operated with the Town of Oyster Bay, including a catering hall on the grounds of the 125-acre Woodlands Golf Course and concessions and restaurants at Tobay Beach.
Singh said in early 2010, he was unable to get financing on his own to upgrade the properties and he had “a lot of pressure from the town” to make the contractually mandated capital improvements.
Singh said he came up with the idea to have the Town of Oyster Bay secure a loan and in January 2010 asked Edward Mangano to speak to Venditto about it for him.
“I had a very, very good relationship with Supervisor Venditto,” Singh said. “But I thought if I get the county executive who was just elected .... They’re gonna need each other.”
Eventually, over the next two years, he said he got four loans backed by the town.
Singh also described how Edward Mangano asked him to buy a luxury watch for Mangano’s son Sal for his 21st birthday.
Mangano handed him $2,500 in cash and told Singh to buy “a good watch” worth about $3,500, Singh said. But the son wanted a Panerai Luminor, for which Singh paid $7,300.
“I just got a quarter of a million dollar contract,” he said. “So I had to comply.”
In other testimony, prosecutors played secretly recorded conversations between Singh and former Town of Oyster Bay deputy town attorney Fred Mei; Singh and his father; and Singh and Joseph Conway, who was his attorney at the time.
In the first recording played for the jury — who wore headphones along with Singh, the judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the Manganos — Singh said he got “nothing, nothing” from Edward Mangano, according to testimony. Mei was wearing a body wire for the government as the two met in the basement conference room of H.R. Singleton’s on May 26, 2015.
Asked by Mirabile what he was referring to, Singh said: “I told him Ed Mangano gave nothing to me.”
Singh said he didn’t want Mei to know that he was bribing Mangano, even though he was giving bribes to Mei too, in the form of $1,000 monthly to lease a BMW, cash payments after he closed the four town-backed loans, and free trips to South Korea and India.
Mei pleaded guilty in September 2015 to receiving “bribes and kickbacks” for helping secure town loan guarantees for a concessionaire.
At another point, Singh testified he was not telling the truth on the tapes because he didn’t tell others about who he was bribing.
“I compartmentalize it,” said Singh.
Edward Mangano, sitting at the defense table, smirked.