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Power on Trial: How the system works, according to Mei

Oyster Bay is Republican, Frederick Mei testified

Oyster Bay is Republican, Frederick Mei testified Monday, so during most of his tenure in the town attorney's office the supervisor, the board and commissioners were Republicans, too. Photo Credit: LinkedIn

Party rules

Frederick Mei, a former Oyster Bay deputy town attorney, spent the early part of his testimony Monday, explaining to jurors how the town worked.

Testifying in the trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife, Linda, and former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, Mei referenced an organizational chart, shown on the courtroom’s big screen, that put the people of Oyster Bay in the top spot.

From there, came the supervisor and the town board (and the other elected positions of clerk and receiver of taxes).

And below them, the commissioners — that is, the appointed officials charged with ensuring that everything from parks to highways ran the right way.

Just as quickly, however, under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz, Mei hit upon how the town — and so many like it on Long Island — really works.

Oyster Bay is Republican, Mei testified, so during most of his tenure in the town attorney’s office the supervisor, the board and commissioners were Republicans, too.

To get a job, he testified, it was expected, at minimum, that workers register as Republicans.

It helped, too, he testified, if workers bought tickets to fundraisers and helped the party in other ways.

Mei used the term “The Oyster Bay Way,” to describe what he called the town’s pay-to-play culture.

But his description of elected officials, commissioners and workers of one party supporting that party is the way politics — and governing — has worked in Nassau County for decades.

In Nassau County, Republicans holding office meant Republican workers; that switched when Democrats took control.

In North Hempstead, Democrats have a lock on positions.

And in Hempstead — where the newly elected Democratic supervisor is suing the town because of moves made to protect Republican workers before she took office — Republicans long ruled the roost.

As for Oyster Bay, Mei testified, “Politics plays a key role in town government. . . . With few exceptions, in my 30 years in the town, the town board and supervisor were Republicans.”

On assignment

In February, 2010, Mei testified, he was given an assignment by Leonard Genova, the former Oyster Bay town attorney — at the behest of Venditto — to help find a way for the town to help Singh secure financing for capital improvements at the town golf course and beach.

Mei, according to a series of emails and other documents introduced into evidence Monday, communicated several times with Jonathan Sinnreich, the town’s outside counsel, who — repeatedly — advised against the town making such a move.

According to earlier testimony, an April 2010 email from Sinnreich to the town said that a municipality guaranteeing a private loan would go against the New York State Constitution.

During his first day on the stand as a prosecution witness, Mei said that well before then, Sinnreich had said he had issues with the town’s quest to aid Singh.

“Did he use the phrase, ‘This is a bad idea?” Treinis Gatz asked.

“I believe he did,” Mei answered.

That would turn out to be an understatement.

With the loans the town backed indirectly for Singh, and the political, legal and financial brouhaha that followed, Oyster Bay’s pristine credit rating fell to junk-bond status.

Only recently has it begun to rise again.

Pension credit

Mei, who secretly pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges in 2015, testified that he was retired from town government.

Earlier in the trial, prosecutors played a conversation that Mei, who was wired, at one point had with former restaurateur Harendra Singh in Singh’s flagship restaurant, H.R. Singletons.

Mei, back on March 26, 2015, said he was worried about his pension.

“I need to make it to work until like the middle of December — the middle of November to get to 30 years,” he told Singh. “If I don’t get 30 years — if I retire today, I get a 27 percent decrease in my pension.”

“Wow,” Singh said.

“Which is huge. Just for not making 30 years because I’m younger than 62. So if I have to, I’ll — I’ll let them — I’ll ask them if I could use my sick time between now and November. . . . And then I’ll retire.”

On Monday, Mei, 58, said he made $117,000 annually as a deputy town attorney.

According to the New York State Comptroller’s Office, Mei retired on Sept. 26, 2015.

He gets a gross pension of $5,647.73 a month, according to the comptroller’s office.

Treinis Gatz asked if Mei paid state taxes on that pension.

“No,” he replied.

Federal taxes?

“Yes.” Mei said.

Once, he got tires

Mei pleaded guilty to a charge of honest services fraud for receiving bribes and kickbacks between 2011 and 2015 for helping secure a town loan guarantee for Singh.

But, he testified Monday, those weren’t the first bribes he received.

In 1995, Mei said, he received a set of tires for his car and $2,500 in cash from a town contractor.

He said he told the contractor that he needed new tires, and that he was having financial difficulties.

Why? asked Treinis Gatz.

“I was hoping he would buy them for me,” Mei answered.

“He bought you tires?” Treinis Gatz asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

“He gave you cash?” she went on.

“Yes,” he said.

Taxing jurisdictions

Mei demonstrated the ability to name all 18 incorporated villages in the town — and each of the 18 unincorporated hamlets.

But some jurors seemed to perk up when the subject of Long Island property taxes was tossed in with the geography lesson.

At one point, Treinis Gatz asked if village residents paid taxes to the village, to the town of Oyster Bay and to the county of Nassau.

“Yes,” Mei said.

But, he added, “the town tax in incorporated villages is prorated,” because villages handle garbage pick up and other such duties.

 

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