Early on Wednesday, David Salony, former executive chef for the Singh Hospitality Group, testified under prosecution questioning that he’d gone to high school with Linda Mangano, who was seated at the defendant’s table — several yards away from the witness stand.
With that, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Caffarone began adding the phrase “your classmate” to a series of questions.
One of them was, “Your high school classmate was not one of the people who was working [for former restaurateur Harendra Singh’s restaurants] over those four years?”
“No,” Salony replied repeatedly, in some form or fashion — just as he had during last year’s trial.
At one point, John Carman, Linda Mangano’s defense attorney, stood up to say, “For the record, Mrs. Mangano graduated in 1981. She’s a year older.”
“I understand these important distinctions,” U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack said, as the courtroom burst into laughter.
“That she’s a year older?” Salony chimed in.
Much of the testimony — in a day cut short by winter weather — dealt with restaurant décor, marketing, color schemes, overhauls and the like.
During a discussion about marketing and menus,/ Salony mentioned “table tents.”
Testimony stopped for a bit after the court recorder asked, “What is a table tent?”
Salony explained that it is a special occasion menu card that is put on the table, and tented, “like something you go camping with.”
Viva Las Vegas
Salony said that he went to Las Vegas to learn how to make pizzas — once Singh decided that the restaurant group should add a pizzeria.
“I contacted a pizza consultant located in Las Vegas,” Salony testified. “I never made a pizza before.”
Once there, he said, he spent a week learning “how to make dough, how the dough rises … ”
With that newfound knowledge, Salony said, the group opened a pizzeria that eventually moved into a space at the back of Singh's HR Singletons restaurant in Bethpage.
It was called BESI — which, according to earlier testimony, meant Behind Singletons.
It opened in 2011, according to Newsday reports.
And closed in 2012.
During cross-examination, John Carman, Linda Mangano's attorney, hammered Salony with questions about a non-prosecution agreement he has with the federal government. Salony acknowledged the pact would keep him from being prosecuted for failing to pay taxes on the cash portion of decades of salary he earned while working for Singh.
Salony said the agreement was predicated on his telling the truth during testimony.
“Who decides whether you are telling the truth?” Carman asked.
“Who decides?” Salony repeated, “The jury decides.”
“Who decides if the agreement gets ripped up,” Carman pressed.
“The U.S. attorney,” Salony replied.
“The government decides,” Carman said.
“Yes,” Salony conceded.
Jurors seemed to find Salony entertaining, openly laughing at several points as he sparred with Carman.
But the tenor seemed to change — at least for a while — once Salony was cross-examined about his non-prosecution agreement.
After that, fewer jurors seemed to find reason to smile.
All that glitters
Although most of Wednesday’s direct testimony centered on what Linda Mangano, as a Singh employee, did — or, according to witnesses, did not do, Kevin Keating, Edward Mangano’s attorney, also rose to cross-examine Salony.
“Would you agree,” Keating said in beginning a question about The Water’s Edge restaurant in Long Island City -- which he described as a “glittering” jewel of an establishment overlooking the East River.
Salony did not agree.
The restaurant, he said, was “a beat-up property on a dilapidated barge that used to be glittering.”
But it was a wedding venue after Singh’s purchase, Keating pressed.
“It was always a wedding venue,” Salony replied. “It was a high-end restaurant, [but] I wouldn’t say it was as pristine as it was in the past.”
Keating also made use of Salony’s cross-examination to elicit testimony about the Town of Oyster Bay — testimony that during the last trial had come as a result of the government’s prosecution of John Venditto, the former town supervisor, and through witnesses, including Frederick Mei, the former deputy town attorney who has not testified this time around.
Keating asked Salony whether Singh had built a conference room for Venditto, who was acquitted of all charges last year.
Salony said Singh had.
Keating then quizzed Salony about whether he knew a host of Oyster Bay officials and others.
“Richard Betz?” Keating said.
“Yes,” Salony answered, referring to the town’s former public works commissioner.
“Frank Nocerino?” Keating asked.
“Yes,” Salony answered, referring to the town’s former deputy public safety commissioner.
“Yes,” Salony said of Venditto’s former assistant.
“I don’t recall that name,” Salony said. Porcelli was a close political ally of Venditto.
“Len Genova?” Keating went on.
“Yes, sure,” Salony said, of the former town attorney, who testified at both trials.
“Fred Mei,” Keating said.
“Of course,” Salony said, of the former deputy town attorney who has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Singh.