This story was reported by Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy, Emily Ngo and Andrew Smith. It was written by Ngo.
State Assemb. Michael Montesano testified Monday in the federal corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano that he was pressured to spend his office’s full staff budget on a position for Mangano’s wife.
“I can’t do that; that’s my whole budget,” Montesano (R-Glen Head) recounted telling Oyster Bay Republican leader Jim Picken, who Montesano said approached him on the night of his 2010 election about employing Linda Mangano.
Then, in separate testimony, Melissa Evwiehor, a former bookkeeper to restaurateur Harendra Singh, testified that Linda Mangano — his highest-paid employee — received her paycheck on time even when others didn’t.
Additionally, Peter and Joseph Palumbo, co-owners of Camelot Specialty Limos, which Singh said he used to provide rides for former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto and his inner circle, challenged Venditto’s lawyer’s suggestion that Venditto had paid the drivers in cash.
Montesano, Evwiehor, once an administrative employee for Singh Hospitality Group, and the Palumbo brothers took the stand in Central Islip as part of a new slate of prosecution witnesses following four weeks of testimony by Singh.
Singh, 59, of Laurel Hollow, pleaded guilty to bribing Edward Mangano and Venditto with benefits, which he testified included a no-show job for Linda Mangano totaling about $450,000 in pay from 2010 to 2014 and free hired-car services for Venditto, his family, his aides and their guests.
Singh said that, in exchange, he received county contracts and more than $20 million in town-guaranteed loans.
Charges against Edward Mangano, 56, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, include conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest-services fraud.
Mangano also is charged with extortion; Venditto also is charged with securities fraud.
Charges against Linda Mangano, 54, of Bethpage, include obstructing justice and making false statements to the FBI.
The three pleaded not guilty and are standing trial together.
On Monday, Montesano said that at the Feb. 9, 2010, victory party celebrating his first election, Picken approached him and said: “I want you to call and offer Linda Mangano a job and give her your full allotment.”
The budget then was $85,000 a year.
Montesano testified he wasn’t going to hire her, but he called the Mangano home twice and left messages as a courtesy.
Edward Mangano called back and said his wife wasn’t interested in a job, Montesano said.
“I said I wasn’t offering the position,” Montesano said. “I think he understood that and said, ‘That’s OK.’ ”
Questioned by Linda Mangano’s attorney, John Carman of Garden City, Montesano acknowledged that he never discussed the job with Linda Mangano herself.
Later Monday, Evwiehor, who said she began working for Singh in 2009, testified that she was instructed to pay employees late or not in full as his company’s financial problems worsened beginning in 2013.
“Did this affect every single Singh employee?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Tierney asked.
“All but one,” Evwiehor replied.
“Who was that?” Tierney asked.
“Linda Mangano,” Evwiehor said.
Evwiehor said that about half of Singh’s payroll was off the books, allowing him to avoid paying payroll taxes and his employees to avoid paying income taxes.
The Manganos’ older son, Sal, was paid off the books and made $1,800 every two weeks, the witness said.
His mother was on the books, but unlike other employees, her checks were delivered either to her home or deposited into her bank account, Evwiehor said.
Evwiehor, who has a nonprosecution agreement from the U.S. attorney’s office, said she received an email in summer 2015 instructing her to dock Sal Mangano’s pay because he hadn’t shown up for work for three days.
Two weeks ago, Edward Mangano’s defense attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, cited the email as evidence showing the younger Mangano did not benefit from favoritism.
Evwiehor testified Monday that Singh told her to “disregard” the email.
Sal Mangano’s pay was never docked, she said.
Also Monday, Peter Palumbo, of Camelot Specialty Limos, testified that the rides he provided to Venditto and his inner circle were always paid in full in advance by Singh.
Palumbo said drivers were never paid in cash for trips.
Venditto’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo of Manhattan, suggested last week that his client paid in cash.
“We strongly discourage paying in cash the day of,” Palumbo said. “It’s so rare — less than 1 percent of the time, if it ever happens at all.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz walked Palumbo through records of 2011-2014 rides documented by company software. All rides examined Monday were paid using one of Singh’s credit cards or deducted from commissions Camelot owed Singh’s catering hall, the Woodlands.
“Nothing’s free,” Palumbo said.
But he later acknowledged that a ride for Sal Mangano to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn may have been a complimentary service for Singh. A trip sheet recording the March 2013 transportation job had “No Charge” written on it.
“Sal didn’t pay for the ride,” the witness insisted.
Keating, Mangano’s attorney, noted that Palumbo had testified before a grand jury that the particular ride was free.
Under questioning by Joshua Kirshner, one of Venditto’s lawyers, Palumbo acknowledged that an email with a trip sheet attached for a Dec. 12, 2013, car service for Venditto showed an “unpaid” status three days before the $439 job.
Palumbo also agreed that another trip sheet for a job booked on Dec. 27, 2013, for Venditto to travel on Dec. 30, 2013, to Rockefeller Plaza also showed an “unpaid” status.
Palumbo said he didn’t know whether Venditto had paid the driver cash for the trip — as Kirshner suggested.
The witness said that it was up to drivers to record on trip sheets the cash tips they got, but they probably didn’t do it in practice because the transaction then went on the books as extra income.
Palumbo’s brother, Joseph, took the stand later Monday and said Singh called him in January 2010 to have Camelot handle transportation for the wedding of Venditto’s son, Michael.
“He wanted to make sure it went perfect because he was an important guy,” Palumbo said of Singh’s characterization of Michael Venditto, who went on to serve as a county legislator and state senator.
Palumbo said he met that month with Michael Venditto and his then-fiancee, who reserved a Bentley and two Lincoln Navigators for their March 2010 wedding, an 18-passenger Infiniti for his bachelor party and a party bus for her bachelorette festivities.
Palumbo testified that he told them, using Singh’s nickname: “H would pick it up . . . He’s taking care of everything.”