This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy and Andrew Smith. It was written by Murphy.
A lawyer who worked for Oyster Bay testified Tuesday in the corruption retrial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano that he had advised the town against backing loans for restaurateur Harendra Singh, calling the arrangement “a complete sham and not legal.”
Jonathan Sinnreich, who served as Oyster Bay’s outside counsel from 2005 to 2015, said he objected in 2010 to helping deputy town attorney Frederick Mei draft amendments to two of Singh’s food venue concession agreements.
“It was immediately clear to me that the deal was completely illegal and financially dangerous to the town,” the witness, who was called by the prosecution, testified in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
The government charges Edward Mangano gave Singh illegal kickbacks that included using his political clout to help the restaurateur get $20 million in loan guarantees indirectly backed by Oyster Bay.
Prosecutors say Singh bribed the GOP politician with expenditures that included free meals, vacations, home furnishings and a $450,000 “no show” job for his wife, Linda Mangano.
The Bethpage couple is standing trial for the second time on felony charges after their first trial ended in May in a mistrial. Their former co-defendant, former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, won an acquittal at the first trial after an indictment on corruption charges that included bribery, wire services and securities fraud.
Edward Mangano, 56, is accused of federal program bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion. Linda Mangano, 55, faces charges of lying to the FBI, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Singh got his first town-backed line of credit after what prosecutors say was a pivotal meeting about the loan deal in April 2010 that Sinnreich testified about Tuesday.
Sinnreich recalled seeing Edward Mangano standing “immediately behind” Singh at Venditto’s campaign headquarters as political appointees and two attorneys from Mangano’s former law firm, Rivkin Radler, met for what he described as a “problem-identification” session.
Venditto told everyone at the meeting’s end that he wanted to find a way to help the restaurateur before Mangano also chimed in, according to the witness.
“Ed Mangano put his hand on Mr. Singh’s shoulder and said something to the same effect,” Sinnreich testified.
But Sinnreich said he’d repeatedly told Mei and Oyster Bay deputy supervisor Leonard Genova not to go forward with the loan deal.
The witness explained during questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile that a municipality is forbidden under New York’s Constitution to make a gift to a private party.
Sinnreich said the town was being asked to sweeten an existing deal with Singh and getting nothing in return, adding: “That’s a gift.”
The attorney testified in addition that the state Constitution also bars towns from guaranteeing loans to private parties. The earlier versions of the agreements, Sinnreich said, didn’t require Singh to spend the proceeds of a loan on the town and imposed no controls on how the restaurateur used the loan.
If Singh defaulted on repayment, the town would be on the hook not only for the loan but also for all the bank costs, Sinnreich said.
The witness said Rob Walker, then Nassau’s chief deputy county executive, and Rivkin Radler attorneys William Cornachio and William Savino — the latter of whom testified later Tuesday — also were at the meeting at Venditto’s North Massapequa headquarters.
Sinnreich said he hadn’t known the Rivkin Radler attorneys would be present, and that the lawyers were acting as though they represented Singh.
“They were clearly concerned with his interests,” Sinnreich testified, saying he found out later that those lawyers were working for Oyster Bay at that time.
Sinnreich said Venditto brought up Sinnreich’s objections to the town backing a loan for Singh, before the witness explained in detail his opposition to those at the meeting.
But he said that, after the gathering, he was excluded from matters involving the town guaranteeing loans for Singh.
The witness testified he heard later that Cornachio had come up with a way for the town to back the loans indirectly, by Oyster Bay promising to pay the bank the value of Singh’s investments if Singh defaulted on repayment.
“I told Mr. Mei that what was being proposed was bogus and a complete sham, and not legal,” Sinnreich said. “I didn’t even know until 2015 that a deal had been done.”
On Monday, a prosecution witness who had worked for Madison National Bank testified the lending institution initially rejected Singh’s bid for $1.5 million of credit in 2010, but signed off later that year on that transaction and a $3.4 million loan for the restaurateur.
The witness, Thomas Gilmartin, said the deals only went through after the town agreed to give the value of Singh’s investments to the bank if Singh defaulted on repayment.
On Tuesday, Kevin Keating, Edward Mangano's defense attorney, asked Sinnreich during a cross-examination about why he didn’t mention Mangano’s presence at the April 2010 meeting at Venditto’s headquarters when he spoke to prosecutors in 2015.
The witness replied that he “forgot” to mention it and that he’d been “nervous” about being questioned by federal prosecutors about the loans.
Sinnreich also admitted he hadn’t said when testifying before the grand jury that Mangano had put a hand on Singh’s shoulder at the same meeting, but added: “I did not believe the question that was asked elicited that information.”
The prosecution next called Savino to the witness stand Tuesday, with Mirabile questioning him in part about the April 2010 meeting at Venditto’s headquarters.
The witness testified he had “no independent recollection” of what Oyster Bay wanted his law firm to do at the time, but it involved whether the town “could lend its creditworthiness to a third party.”
Savino, who worked on Edward Mangano’s campaign for county executive and contributed about $3,000, said he couldn’t clearly recall many of the people who were present that day and gave the meeting location in Hicksville or Bethpage, rather than North Massapequa.
He said he had a “vague recollection” that Singh was there, knew that Cornachio and Sinnreich were there, but couldn’t recall if Mangano had been present.
Savino, who emceed Mangano’s first swearing-in as Nassau’s chief government leader, said Cornachio soon found a solution to the loan guarantee issue that preceded Oyster Bay’s financial backing of Singh.
The prosecutor also asked Savino about a page of notes that appeared to represent his first introduction to the loan guarantee issue prior to the meeting. It was a document he agreed was in his handwriting and represented a conversation with Edward Mangano.
The body of the notes described the conflict Oyster Bay faced as officials sought to find a way to legally guarantee financial backing for Singh — notes the defense suggested at the first trial were from a conversation between Savino and Genova.
Genova’s name was on the first line of the notes.
But the prosecutor on Tuesday showed Savino phone records that he said confirmed his phone call was with Mangano, not Genova, on the day he took the notes. Savino acknowledged the phone records showed he had spoken with Genova the next day.
Savino told Keating later, as the defense attorney began a cross-examination, that he had no memory of those conversations with Mangano and Genova other than what records showed.
The witness also called Edward Mangano a “dedicated and competent” public official who did patent and trademark work for Rivkin Radler while also working part-time as a county legislator before his election as county executive.