This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy and Andrew Smith. It was written by Murphy.
Businessman Harendra Singh testified Tuesday at the federal corruption retrial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife Linda that Oyster Bay officials “never said no” to him, as the defense aimed to show the restaurateur hadn’t needed the county’s then-leader to get millions in town-backed loans.
Prosecutors have alleged the Bethpage couple benefited from bribes Singh paid Edward Mangano in exchange for county contracts and tens of millions of dollars in Town of Oyster Bay loan guarantees, and that Linda Mangano lied to the FBI as part of an attempted cover-up.
But defense lawyer Kevin Keating’s questioning of Singh on his third day of testimony largely focused on the idea that Singh already had landed multiple concessions contracts with Oyster Bay years before his client took the county’s helm.
“They never said no to you, did they?” Keating asked Singh, referring to Oyster Bay officials during a cross-examination Tuesday.
“Whatever I asked for, they did, correct,” Singh replied.
Throughout the trial, the defense has sought to portray Singh, 60, as a liar and cheat who would say anything as a witness against the Manganos in an attempt to earn leniency at his own upcoming sentencing.
In testimony Tuesday, Singh — who was by turns polite and resistant — outlined why town officials had reasons to never refuse him. They included significant improvements he made to a town golf course venue and beach concessions, which were popular with town residents, as well as his bribes and favors.
He said he also built a private conference room for then-Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto and paid for international trips and discounted weddings for other town officials.
Venditto was acquitted in May of bribery, conspiracy and other charges in the same trial that ended in a mistrial for the Manganos. Singh has pleaded guilty to bribery and tax evasion.
Prosecutors claim Mangano used his influence with Venditto to get Oyster Bay officials to agree to backing loans for Singh.
But Keating told jurors in his opening statement that Edward Mangano only took office as county executive in 2010, and didn’t have the clout only a few months later to induce Venditto, a longtime GOP leader, into doing a loan deal for Singh.
“John Venditto never said no to me,” Singh testified at another point Tuesday.
“John Venditto, a man you could have called up at any time?” Keating asked.
“Yes,” said Singh.
The government’s star witness also confirmed Tuesday that Mangano never spoke at what prosecutors say was a pivotal April 2010 meeting at Venditto’s campaign office where top town officials and several attorneys tried to come up with a plan for Oyster Bay to legally back business loans for Singh.
Singh testified that he began running lucrative concessions operations on Oyster Bay-owned property in 1998, when Venditto became supervisor.
He said he first won a three-month contract to run concessions at the town-owned golf course in Woodbury that year, but had bigger plans for expanding his operations at the property known as Woodlands.
So he then spoke with Venditto, Leonard Genova, then the town’s deputy supervisor, and Frederick Mei, then an Oyster Bay deputy town attorney, according to his testimony. Genova is expected to testify later with immunity from prosecution. Mei has pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges.
Singh said that in 2000 he signed a new agreement that gave him control of the property for two decades, a deal that called for the restaurateur to make major capital improvements at the golf course’s clubhouse.
“Ed Mangano wouldn’t be county executive for a decade, right?” Keating asked.
Singh agreed and testified that the agreement called for $2.1 million in improvements in three years, but his expansion and other renovations added up to a cost of $4.6 million.
Singh admitted he funded some improvements with a mortgage he fraudulently took out on property his father owned, later contributing to the family member’s bankruptcy filing at age 82.
But Singh said the improvements thrilled town officials, and added that his friendships with Genova and Mei deepened. By 2005, Singh had finished capital improvements at Woodlands, and with 15 years still to go on his concessions agreement, the town exercised its 10-year option after the restaurateur made a request with Genova, the witness said.
Singh acknowledged that Mangano didn’t become county executive until five years later.
The witness said he next won a bid to run food concessions at Tobay Beach for 20 years after Mei and Genova kept the request for vendor proposals “vague, so other bidders wouldn’t know what the town wanted.”
Singh said he expanded the concession facilities at the South Shore beach venue and sometimes brought in $100,000 a week in cash if the weather was agreeable.
In 2006 or 2007, Singh built and furnished a conference room in the basement of his flagship restaurant, H.R. Singletons in Bethpage, where Venditto could smoke inside and work in private, the witness testified.
Then in 2008, Singh paid for Mei and his niece to travel to South Korea, according to his testimony.
Singh said he did so at a time when he was looking for more extensions on his town concessions — and said Oyster Bay agreed around then to convert his concessions agreement at the Woodlands to a 50-year deal.
Mei, by that point, was even advising Singh on how to get the town to reduce his rent, according to the witness, who added that Mei wasn’t the only town official doing his bidding in return for favors.
Singh testified he gave town board member Joseph Muscarella a half-price wedding, and discounted a wedding for town board member Anthony Macagnone. He said now-former Oyster Bay official Frank Nocerino got complimentary golf outings, along with a half-priced family wedding at the Woodlands and another at The Water’s Edge — a Queens venue Singh bought in 2008 for $7 million.
“Everybody in the Town of Oyster Bay knew Harendra Singh, right?” Keating asked.
“They wanted to keep you happy?” the lawyer inquired next.
“Yes,” the witness replied.
Prosecutors claim Singh gave Linda Mangano a “no-show” job as part of bribes to Edward Mangano that included wood flooring for the couple’s bedroom, five vacations, a slew of free meals, a $7,300 wristwatch for one of their sons and two expensive chairs.
But the defense insists the expenditures were gifts from a longtime family friend and that Edward Mangano never reciprocated with any government action.
Edward Mangano, 56, is on trial for seven felony charges that include conspiracy, extortion and federal program bribery. Linda Mangano, 55, is on trial on five felony charges that include lying to the FBI about her employment with Singh.
In other testimony Tuesday, Singh admitted he “misspoke” or “may have misspoken” in earlier testimony when describing his motivation for offering Linda Mangano a job.
Last week, Singh said he hired her in order to get a town-backed loan guarantee, but Tuesday he said the alleged bribe had a more wide-ranging aim.
“I knew that I was going to need him for many things,” Singh said of Edward Mangano. “In Nassau County, in Oyster Bay, to call state officials and members of Congress.”
He also aimed a barb at the former county executive during a discussion of how much the Bethpage Republican Club paid for rent at one of his properties. Singh said Mangano wanted him to cut the group a break of about $350 on what Singh wanted to charge for rent.
“When I walked the streets, the birds chirped ‘Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap,’” the witness quipped.
Also Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack, in a written order, denied a defense motion to either throw the case out or inform the jury that there had been a mistrial. The issue related to how the prosecution presented evidence of an FBI body wire recording at the retrial — a ruling both sides declined to comment on. She said the motion “makes no sense” and called it “absurd.”