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Power on Trial: Genova describes how things work in Oyster Bay

Former Town of Oyster Bay attorney Leonard Genova

Former Town of Oyster Bay attorney Leonard Genova during a town board meeting on May 24, 2016. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Sausage making

Leonard Genova, Oyster Bay’s former town attorney, detailed how government and politics are entwined in Nassau during testimony Monday in the corruption trial of Edward Mangano, Nassau’s former county executive, his wife, Linda, and John Venditto, Oyster Bay’s former town supervisor.

Genova told jurors — as a photograph of Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello looked on from the courtroom’s largest screen behind him — that the party structure closely resembled that of the county’s government structure.

“There is a tremendous amount of interplay between the politics and the government,” he testified.

In the GOP, Mondello sits at the top.

In Nassau, it was Mangano, he testified.

In Oyster Bay, the top spot on an organization chart entered into evidence belongs to Town of Oyster Bay residents.

But Genova, under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine M. Mirabile, tied it all together.

And not in any way that should bring comfort to town or county residents.

He said, as witnesses have said before him, that Oyster Bay jobs and favors went to the politically connected and to officials’ friends.

That’s called patronage.

And favoritism.

He said that town board resolutions were drafted to be vague, by design, to allow officials leeway to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

That’s called being a rubber stamp — which means goodbye to municipal checks and balances.

He said the town practice was to meet with preferred vendors before drafting Requests for Proposals as a way to favor the same vendor.

“We would back into an RFP, go over it with a person and then utilize that information to tailor the RFP,” Genova testified.

That sounds like bid rigging.

And, Genova testified, that as a political leader charged with raising funds for the GOP and as a public official, he focused on certain contractors when seeking contributions.

“These are typically some of those I would go to on a regular basis,” he said.

That sounds like pay to play.

All in all, during his first hours on the stand, in the eighth week of a political corruption trial, Genova dissected all that’s wrong with too many municipalities on Long Island.

Rogue one

“Was Fred Mei a rogue employee?” Mirabile asked Genova, referring to earlier town assertions that then-town attorney acted alone in getting Oyster Bay to stand behind loans for former restaurateur Harendra Singh.

“No, he was not,” answered Genova, who earlier had testified that Mei “was the person we used as a scapegoat.”

Did Venditto refer to Mei as a rogue attorney, Mirabile asked.

“Yes, he did,” Genova said.

Did Oyster Bay fire Mei, she asked.

“No, Mr. Mei was allowed to resign and retire,” Genova answered.

“Did he receive his pension?” she asked.

“Yes, he did,” Genova replied.

And then Mirabile asked why the town allowed Mei to step down rather than let him go.

Venditto preferred a resignation, Genova said, because “from an optics standpoint, it would look better.”

Lawyer talk

In a conversation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Jonathan Sinnreich, the town’s outside counsel, began to tell, unprompted, prosecutors about the history of Oyster Bay’s quest to find a way to back Singh’s loans.

Genova, who had initiated the call, testified that he was aghast. “Before I could even stop him,” Genova said, Sinnreich “went into everything that had happened.”

“To be quite honest,” he went on, “I really kind of panicked.”

Earlier, Genova testified that he and Venditto tried to keep the specifics of the loans to a small circle of people.

Not even the town’s financial and other legal advisers knew, he said.

But when Genova became concerned about the loans, what appeared to be his signature on two loan documents and about Singh’s quest to assign some of his business with the town over to others, he said, he decided that prosecutors needed to know.

“I was flustered” when Sinnreich began to speak, Genova testified. “I was very concerned about releasing that information to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

“Were you and Mr. Sinnreich in the same room?” Judge Azrack asked at one point.

“Yes, we were,” Genova answered.

He also said that he wasn’t forthcoming in initial conversations with prosecutors.

And that during the call, as Sinnreich spoke, “I said I was getting a call from my son.”

But he wasn’t really, he testified.

He said got off the call to reach out to Venditto instead.

“He’s talking about the entire thing.” Genova, referring to Sinnreich, said he told Venditto.

Venditto, he testified, replied, “There’s nothing you can do.”

Not on the payroll

Richard Porcelli was not a town employee, Genova testified, but he had an office, a business card and a listing on the town’s telephone directory.

“Was he on the town payroll?” U.S. District Court Judge Joan M. Azrack asked, with no trace of the incredulity that showed on faces of many others in the courtroom.

“He wasn’t on any town payroll, your honor,” Genova answered.

Mirabile entered a copy of the town telephone directory into evidence.

And, a few moments later, a copy of the business card the town had made up for Porcelli.

As for the office, which was on the third floor of Oyster Bay Town Hall north adjacent to that of the supervisor’s, Genova testified, “Mr. Porcelli put some of his personal items” in the office “where he could come in if he wanted a place to sit and hang his hat.”

Porcelli, who spent a portion of each year in Florida for his health, was considered to be Venditto’s chief of staff, Genova testified.

Genova said Porcelli did have a car, and that he also received a stipend — both paid for by the Friends of John Venditto, the supervisor’s campaign operation.

Which made Porcelli something unusual even in Long Island politics — a campaign-paid operative functioning as what Genova called more than Venditto’s “right arm.”

Limiting comment

Genova said Venditto voted in lockstep with his all-Republican town board, all but once.

He testified that, behind closed doors, Venditto supported limiting the amount of time the public could speak at meetings.

But when the resolution came up for a vote during a board meeting, Venditto said he wanted to vote against it — because during his tenure the supervisor had always opposed limiting public comment.

That was in 2016, when the board — without public notice or comment — adopted a resolution limiting the public to speaking three minutes on one resolution and up to 10 minutes on three or more resolutions.

The board adopted the resolution, which was announced minutes before the board voted, without prior public notice or comment.

It was aimed at residents, including Robert Ripp, a frequent Venditto critic who during that time made lengthy public comments and asked questions about the administration.

Ripp, who has attended every day of the trial, took notes during Genova’s testimony.

A room with the lights off

Genova testified that he and Porcelli were asked by Venditto to meet, separately, with Singh after the FBI agents visited the restaurateur.

During his meeting, Genova said, Singh was fidgety and “very distracted.”

Porcelli, Genova said, later told him that Singh “broke down” and was crying during their meeting in the basement of H.R. Singleton’s restaurant in Bethpage.

Singh at one point told Porcelli that he believed that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office were “trying to create this triangle and this web of conspiracy,” Genova testified.

“We were scared that we had criminal liability,” Genova said, explaining how he said he and Venditto felt as each day bought word of more FBI interviews.

“We are sort of in a room with the lights off,” he testified, “and we don’t know where we are or where we are going.”

Still, Genova testified during the afternoon session, he and Venditto did not disclose the town’s liability for Singh’s loans on financial documents offered to investors — even after the town hired a firm to represent Oyster Bay in civil litigation.

And when the town finally did begin disclosing liability, Genova testified, it intentionally misled investors by stating as fact — what Genova said was fiction — that town officials knew nothing about the last of Singh’s town-backed loans.

You’ve got mail

Genova testified that Venditto had no town email address.

“He didn’t use email for any government or political purpose,” Genova said.

And, Genova testified, Venditto preferred to work in his campaign headquarters in North Massapequa, which often had the front window shades pulled.

Genova said the sun showed through the windows in the afternoon and the shades helped.

“But,” he testified, “they were always drawn to have privacy, and to not let people see in.”

As for his own emails, Genova testified, he preferred to use an AOL account rather than a town email account.

“I felt nothing good could come of constantly putting things in email, and the records you would be creating,” he testified.

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