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Power on Trial: Retrial of Edward and Linda Mangano nears an end

Edward and Linda Mangano arrive at federal court

Edward and Linda Mangano arrive at federal court in Central Islip on Thursday. Prosecutors are expected to rest their case in the retrial sometime this week. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The end is near

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case at some point during this, the fifth week of the Mangano retrial.

Should that come to pass, it’s possible that jurors could get the case next week.

Last time around, it took more than two months to get to this point.

Things are moving faster because there are two, rather than three, defendants this time around because John Venditto, Oyster Bay’s former town supervisor, was acquitted when the jury rendered a partial verdict — before the case against Edward and Linda Mangano ended in a mistrial.

Another factor contributing to a speedier pace is fewer repeat witnesses.

Frederick Mei, Oyster Bay’s former deputy town attorney, hasn’t testified this time around, for example. Neither has Butch Yamali, head of The Dover Group, which also had vied for an emergency contract to feed workers in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

In addition, both prosecutors and defense attorneys streamlined questioning — in many cases eliciting testimony that was more potent, and less rambling, than last time around.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack told jurors that prosecutors would end their case this week.

On Tuesday morning, jurors continued to listen, many of them intently, to testimony that was at times — to be kind — soporific.

At the defendant’s table, Linda Mangano listened, intently as well — to witness testimony from two contractors and one former employee of restaurateur Harendra Singh, who said they did marketing work with no input from her.

Green eats

Jan Guarino, who owns a graphics company, said she helped Singh with concept, marketing and promotion for Fuego Picante, a now-closed (as are all former Singh establishments) restaurant in East Meadow.

On Tuesday, she testified that in 2013, one idea had been to expand the menu to appeal to diners looking to eat vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free by advertising in “maybe some fringe publications” that catered to such audiences.

One email, entered into evidence, said vegans would be willing to travel for such fare.

That didn’t mean the establishment would be meat-free, however.

The restaurant — “A Spicy New Experience” — also carried the tagline “Mexican Smokehouse & Cantina.”

The Singh organization, Guarino testified, had high hopes for Fuego Picante since other restaurants had failed in the same space.

According to a March 2013 Newsday story announcing the restaurant’s opening, the location also had housed Kansas City Smokehouse, RUB BBQ, Long Fin, BeSi, Ruby's Famous BBQ and Louis & Marxx.

“I make no excuses for failing to provide what people wanted there before,” Singh told the newspaper.

Less than one year later, however, another Newsday story appeared.

About the restaurant’s closing.

Friends

On cross-examination, John Carman, Linda Mangano’s attorney, queried Guarino — as he would with other witnesses Tuesday morning — about her relationship with Singh,  in an attempt to contrast the yearslong friendship between Mangano and Singh and the professional relationship between independent contractors and their clients.

After pointing out that Singh owed Guarino money, Carman asked, “Did you know Singh lived in a mansion?”

“I didn’t know,” Guarino replied. "I didn’t know he had a mansion. I had no idea.”

Later, in attempting to make the same point, Carman queried another contractor, John Stevens, owner of a graphic design and marketing firm, about his relationship with Singh.

“Did you go on his boat?” Carman asked.

“No,” Stevens answered.

“ … Swim in his pool?” Carman asked.

“No,” Stevens replied.

“ … Ride in his Maserati?” Carman pressed

“No,” was Stevens' answer.

“ … Stop by his house?” Carman continued.

To which Stevens answered, “No” as well.

Do not disturb

Stevens testified that at one point, he attempted to establish a regular monthly meeting with Singh Group Hospitality officials for planning purposes.

“They were always a day later and a dollar short,” he testified about Singh’s operations, adding that they were like other restaurant organizations he had worked with, “always scrambling to catch up.”

“Everything was last minute and an emergency,” he said, under questioning from  Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Caffarone.

Stevens said he addressed the issue by holding monthly meetings at his office — rather than in Singh’s establishments, to free such gatherings from “phone calls, interruptions” so work could get done.

Pay day

Stevens detailed work he did for Singh’s restaurants, from planning and changing menus, to logos, to designing ads and web pages — and a whole lot more.

Earlier, one former Singh employee, Lisa Graham, said she had been paid $35,000 a year — before too many missed paychecks led her to quit the company.

Graham said she worked from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a half-hour lunch break.

She said she was so busy that she requested help, which, she said, never came.

Like Stevens, Graham did a lot of work.

Stevens testified that he charged Singh $399 a month per restaurant to handle marketing.

“We didn’t charge enough,” he testified. “We should have charged more. It was too much [work].”

Home work

At one point, Carman attempted to seize upon Stevens' testimony about working from home.

Earlier in the retrial — as he did in the first Mangano trial — Carman repeatedly made the point that just because Linda Mangano didn’t come into the office  didn’t mean she did not do work, especially since she has an office at her home.

On Tuesday, as Carman questioned Stevens about where he worked during the early years of his businesses, Stevens said he also had worked at home.

“You were allowed to work from home?” Carman asked, his voice rising with incredulity.

“By who?”

Stevens, who appeared to be confused by both the question and Carman’s excitement, responded.

“Whose permission do you mean?”

Stevens went on, “Oh, you mean, my wife?”

At this the courtroom broke into laughter.

A new job

Arvind Walia, founder and chief executive officer of Porteck, a medical billing company, did not testify at last year’s trial.

But on Tuesday, his testimony drew mixed response from Linda Mangano supporters in the courtroom.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz, Walia said his firm’s largest client asked him to hire Linda Mangano.

He said the client also suggested that she get a salary of $75,000.

Walia said he hired Linda Mangano in August or September 2014.

That would have been after Mangano received her last paycheck from Singh — whose offices at HR Singletons had been raided by federal authorities in August 2014.

“Did your biggest client tell you why you should hire Linda Mangano?” Treinis Gatz asked.

“No,” Walia answered, but then he went on to add that Mangano, during an interview, later would tell Walia that she could help his company with marketing, charitable events and other activities that would boost business.

Under cross-examination by Carman, Walia identified his client by name, Anish Berry, saying that Berry had suggested — rather than insisted upon — Mangano’s hiring and salary.

And then Carman asked about Linda Mangano’s work.

“Did Linda Mangano impress you as being intelligent and competent,” he asked at one point.

“Yes,” Walia answered.

He went on to agree that Linda Mangano did quality newsletters, that her work reflected well on the company, that she always responded to Walia, and that the company benefited from her work.

With each yes came some expression of joy from Mangano supporters, many of whom broke into smiles — even as Linda Mangano, at the defendant’s table, began to quietly wipe tears from her eyes.

During redirect, Treinis Gatz asked Walia — for a second time — whether Linda Mangano had worked out of the firm’s Jericho offices about twice a week.

And again, Walia said no.

Prosecutors contend that Mangano lied when she told the FBI that she worked out of the Porteck office two times a week.

Still, the redirect didn’t seem to dampen supporters' spirits — coming on a day of witness after witness testifying that Mangano had little or nothing to do with marketing or anything else at Singh’s businesses.

After testimony ended, Linda Mangano, by now crying openly, embraced one of her friends, who leaned in to her from the spectator side of the courtroom bar.

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