This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy, Emily Ngo and Andrew Smith. It was written by Ngo.
A former Nassau County emergency operations official testified Tuesday that he believed former County Executive Edward Mangano was behind the push to award restaurateur Harendra Singh an emergency, no-bid catering contract in the wake of superstorm Sandy.
John Maguire, on the stand for a second day in Mangano’s federal corruption trial, again recounted how Mangano’s former executive assistant Laura Munafo told him during the 2012 procurement process: “Who the [expletive] are you to pick the caterer?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Tierney asked Maguire — then the emergency operations center manager — on whose behalf he thought Munafo was speaking.
“The county executive,” Maguire said.
“Do you think Harendra Singh’s friendship with Ed Mangano had anything to do with the awarding of this contract?” Tierney asked.
“Yes,” Maguire said.
Singh received the contract to provide meals to hundreds of emergency workers, even though Singh wasn’t one of three vendors that a senior county purchasing official recommended to Maguire, the witness said.
Also Tuesday, Howard Kurtzberg, the vice president and general counsel at Westchester-based NDH Capital Corporation, testified that the bank “definitely would not have” extended credit to Singh if not for the Town of Oyster Bay’s indirect guarantee.
“We wouldn’t be there without the creditworthiness of the Town of Oyster Bay,” said Kurtzberg, 60, of Merrick.
And town officials understood that because when it was stressed to them they showed “no surprise or shock,” he said.
Singh, 59, of Laurel Hollow, who testified in the trial’s first four weeks, pleaded guilty to providing Mangano and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto with bribes in exchange for county contracts totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars and town-guaranteed loans totaling about $20 million.
Mangano’s defense attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, earlier in the trial sought to distance his client from the contract that Singh won for the Sandy response.
Singh had acknowledged in his testimony that the contract was initiated by Health Commissioner Larry Eisenstein and negotiated with Craig Craft, who was then the OEM commissioner but died last year, and his aide Raquel Wolf, a former Singh employee.
Singh said that during the Sandy cleanup he served VIPs including Mangano “special food” such as shrimp and veal while the rank-and-file ate meals such as chicken and pasta.
Mangano, 56, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, have pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest-services wire fraud, extortion for Mangano and securities fraud for Venditto.
Mangano’s wife, Linda, 54, of Bethpage, who is also standing trial, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.
Their trial is in its seventh week in Central Islip.
Singh has testified that he bribed Edward Mangano and Venditto with perks including free meals, free limousine services for Venditto and his inner circle, free vacations for the Mangano family and a no-show job for Linda Mangano that paid her $450,000 over four and a half years.
On Tuesday, Kurtzberg said that when he met with Mangano in 2012 to discuss possible financing for the county, the county executive was not surprised to hear about Singh’s loans backed by Oyster Bay.
But, Kurtzberg added, he was told not to expect the same thing in Nassau, where there is a fiscal control board.
Also Tuesday, Heather McNeill, a former OEM employee who was known then by her maiden name, Senti, testified that she once watched Maguire, Munafo and Craft in a heated meeting through glass office doors.
Maguire came out to tell McNeill they were discussing health code violations by county jail employees who served food to workers at the county OEM before Munafo came out and declared to Maguire and McNeill, “We’re going with H,” McNeill said.
“I took that to mean H. Singh and the Singh hospitality group,” McNeill said.
McNeill testified that the same day, a dinner service from Singh’s business arrived.
The meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack — continued to come from Singh’s business, she said.
Food was served to personnel in the hallway, but she also saw one of the chefs bring trays into Craft’s office, McNeill said.
Before the door closed, she could see Craft, Mangano, chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker, then Deputy County Executive for Public Safety Victor Politi, and Thomas Krumpter, then a deputy police commissioner, inside the room, the witness testified.
McNeill said she found out later what was served.
“I was asked to clean up the mess,” she said.
“There was steak and shrimp that was left over in the trays,” McNeill said.
She told Tierney that the steak didn’t look like London broil, but a better cut of meat.
“It looked to me like filet mignon,” McNeill testified.
Tierney displayed a series of emails and invoices that showed Singh’s bills to the county for days he handled catering for the emergency operations center.
“I personally tabulated $233,000,” McNeill said of the final bill, while agreeing there had been some question from Singh’s company about whether an additional $5,000 was owed to Singh.
Keating, Mangano’s attorney, questioned McNeill on working full-time in a Massapequa fire district beginning June 2013 while working part-time for eight months as a county emergency management employee.
McNeill acknowledged that the deputy emergency management commissioner accused her of “stealing time” — though she said she had written authorization — and she decided the money wasn’t worth her reputation and resigned from the county.
Keating earlier had asked Maguire if Singh supplied food for closer to 16 days than a month.
Maguire said he couldn’t recall, but agreed that the amount of food tapered off as various agencies demobilized and left the emergency operations center.