This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy, Emily Ngo and Andrew Smith. It was written by Ngo.
Restaurateur Harendra Singh testified Wednesday that the Town of Oyster Bay “was willing to do whatever I wanted,” but a defense attorney for former Town Supervisor John Venditto sought to show his client wasn’t essential to Singh securing town-guaranteed loans.
Marc Agnifilo of Manhattan questioned Singh about forging Venditto’s signature on a concession agreement amendment and the roles of Leonard Genova and Frederick Mei, then the town’s attorney and deputy attorney, in Singh’s schemes.
Singh was in his 12th day on the stand in Central Islip in the federal corruption trial of Venditto, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda.
Was Mei more crucial to Singh getting the first loan that was indirectly guaranteed by the town? Agnifilo asked.
Venditto was more important, Singh insisted.
“The order has to come from the top,” Singh said.
Agnifilo responded by submitting as evidence a May 3, 2010 email from Singh to Mei, reading: “Without you the whole thing stops.”
Wednesday’s testimony also included mentions of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who Singh said he met through Nassau County Democratic Party vice chairman Thomas Garry in 2011 or 2012 when de Blasio was serving as the city’s public advocate.
Singh said de Blasio called him on his cell phone directly a few times to ask for money for candidates and, in addition, “was always looking for money for himself.”
Singh, 59, of Laurel Hollow, testified he pleaded guilty in October 2016 of bribing Blasio with campaign contributions in exchange for help with his Queens restaurant. De Blasio has not been charged and has denied inappropriate or illegal conduct.
Singh also pleaded guilty to bribing Edward Mangano and Venditto with benefits including free meals at his restaurants, free limousine services for Venditto, a no-show job for Linda Mangano totaling $450,000 in pay and vacations for the Mangano family. Singh said he did so in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in county contracts and millions of dollars in town-guaranteed loans.
Edward Mangano, 56, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, face charges that include conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest-services fraud. Mangano additionally faces an extortion charge and Venditto also is fighting securities fraud charges.
Linda Mangano, 54, of Bethpage, faces charges including obstructing justice and making false statements to the FBI.
The three have pleaded not guilty.
Agnifilo asked Wednesday why the GOP-controlled town would be willing to use a Democratic-linked law firm, Harris Beach, to help Singh get his loans guaranteed.
“The Town of Oyster Bay was willing to do whatever I wanted, because I was the most important person in their lives,” Singh said. “I supported their agenda.”
Agnifilo also asked Singh about the forging of Venditto’s signature to an amendment to a concession agreement at a meeting held in August 2010.
When Singh noticed that key language was missing, Mei told him to sign it himself rather than have Venditto re-sign it, Singh has testified.
Singh said that at Mei’s instruction, he asked his comptroller Salvatore Russo to forge Venditto’s signature.
Was Singh concerned about getting his employee “involved in a serious crime?” Agnifilo asked.
“At that time, I didn’t pay attention,” Singh responded.
Mei pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Singh. Genova has immunity. Both are expected to be prosecution witnesses.
Agnifilo later in the day played for jurors part of a recording that Mei made for the FBI while wearing a body wire to a Feb. 27, 2015 meeting he had with Singh at H.R. Singletons.
“I don’t know who knows what and that’s my big fear. I don’t know what Lenny knows. … I don’t know what the FBI knows,” Mei says, referencing Genova.
Mei asks if Singh believes anyone knows Singh gave him cash that Singh has since said was bribes.
“Does anyone know you gave me money for the NDH loans?” Mei asks, wondering if it’s “possible Lenny found out?”
“Absolutely not,” Singh responds.
Singh says he guesses that Genova “knows the size of the loan, probably.”
Before the tape played, Singh testified that he always had conversations with Genova about his business and the need for town assistance, and Genova ran things by Venditto before he did anything.
Agnifilo in cross-examining Singh also sought to challenge whether Singh always paid for Venditto’s limo rides and question whether Singh offered the perk out of friendship.
Singh has testified that the first loan guarantee came together after a meeting on April 28, 2010 at Venditto’s Massapequa political headquarters.
“At this point, what had you given to Mr. Venditto?” Agnifilo asked.
“Whatever he requested,” Singh answered, citing free limo rides, free parties and more. “I could go on and on.”
“I was doing things for him since 1998,” Singh said.
“You know that he paid cash to the driver. You know that, don’t you?” Agnifilo asked of the hired car rides.
“No,” Singh replied. “It was charged to my credit card” or to his corporate account. He said he never heard from the limo company that the driver was paid in cash by anyone.
Agnifilo cited a check Genova wrote in October 2013 for $1,650 to Camelot Limos for rides.
“He’s paying back for part of the car services after the Newsday articles,” Singh explaining, referencing to published reports exposing the rides.
If Singh had paid for the limos, the check should have been written to Singh, Agnifilo said.
Singh denied that he provided rides to Venditto’s children, Joanne and Michael, because he cared for them. He said he did so because Venditto’s then-chief of staff, Richard Porcelli, had ordered him to do it on behalf of the supervisor.
Agnifilo reviewed text messages between Singh and Michael Venditto.
They joked in the exchanges about whether Michael Venditto — a Nassau County legislator and then a state senator — was now more important than the Venditto family dog.
“He called you ‘uncle,’ right?” Agnifilo asked. “You wrote back, ‘Have a great time, my handsome nephew.’”
“Again, a joke,” Singh replied.
“He’s not handsome?” Agnifilo asked.
“He’s more handsome than I am, I can tell you that,” Singh said, eliciting laughter in the courtroom.
Singh insisted there was no friendship.
“Did you love them?” Agnifilo asked.
“I love them, yes,” Singh said after a pause, then adding that wasn’t why he showed kindness or generosity to them.
“I was trying to protect my business investment in the Town of Oyster Bay by being nice,” he said.