This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy, Emily Ngo and Andrew Smith. It was written by Ngo.
The owner and founder of a Freeport-based restaurant business testified Thursday that his company was poised to begin providing food to Nassau County emergency workers in the wake of superstorm Sandy.
The contract, however, ultimately went to Harendra Singh, a close friend of then-County Executive Edward Mangano.
“I thought we had it,” Butch Yamali of The Dover Group said.
Yamali, testifying in the federal corruption trial of Mangano and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, said his company had won a 10-year county contract in 2009 to exclusively supply food at county-owned properties and parks.
After Sandy struck in 2012, county Office of Emergency Management officials contacted The Dover Group about providing food at the emergency operations center in Bethpage, Yamali said.
Yamali said on the stand that he believed he was on a list of three Nassau County “approved vendors,” and that Singh was not.
But it was Singh who secured the emergency, no-bid contract to cater meals to county workers during the Sandy recovery.
Singh testified in the trial’s first four weeks that the contract paid $236,000 or $238,000 and that he served “special food” such as shrimp and veal to the VIPs, including Mangano, while the rank-and-file ate meals such as chicken and pasta.
Before he learned Singh got the contract, Yamali spoke to John Maguire, then-county emergency operations center manager, and said he would send his executive chef to get an idea of what the job would entail, Yamali said.
OEM employee Raquel Wolf, a former Singh employee, later told Yamali that the county hadn’t made a decision but would get back to him, Yamali said.
No one did, and his business “never got the job,” Yamali said.
Singh, 59, of Laurel Hollow, pleaded guilty to bribing Mangano and Venditto in exchange for their help in securing hundreds of thousands of dollars in county contracts and more than $20 million in town-guaranteed loans.
He said he provided the two officials with benefits such as free meals at his restaurants, a no-show job paying a total of $450,000 for Mangano’s wife, Linda, and free limousine services for Venditto and his inner circle.
Mangano, 56, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, 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.
Linda Mangano, 54, of Bethpage, pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.
Their trial is in its seventh week in Central Islip.
On Thursday, Yamali testified that The Dover Group was awarded contracts from Hempstead Town, Long Beach, Rockville Centre and Freeport to provide meals for residents and workers in Sandy’s aftermath and a $10,000 county contract to serve Thanksgiving meals at the Nassau OEM that year.
Yamali said it was “100 percent” his understanding that the county was supposed to first check with “approved vendors” before awarding an emergency contract.
He later admitted that he had never read the county’s emergency procurement policies.
Defense attorneys note that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for Sandy, which gave Nassau County the ability to choose any vendor for the job.
Yamali pushed back on a suggestion by one of Edward Mangano’s defense attorneys, Matthew Brissenden of Garden City, that his business’ Plainview warehouse was farther from the county emergency operations center in Bethpage than was H.R. Singletons, Singh’s former restaurant in Bethpage.
“There’s 10 different ways to go there,” Yamali said.
Earlier Thursday, The Dover Group’s executive chef testified that the company was well-equipped to provide thousands of meals a day even immediately after Sandy struck.
Christopher Seidl, 37, of Lido Beach, said several of the 700-employee Dover Group’s restaurants, including Maliblue Oyster Bar in Lido Beach and the Coral House in Baldwin, had power — as did the Plainview warehouse.
Seidl didn’t recall the name of the man he met with at the OEM, but his description was consistent with that of Maguire, who testified earlier this week about meeting with Seidl.
The man told Seidl the center’s food had been provided thus far by the county jail, Seidl said.
“They weren’t happy with the product,” Seidl said.
According to past testimony, state inspectors said the food was served in unsanitary conditions because utensils were being cleaned in a men’s bathroom.
Seidl said he told Maguire that Dover could set up a barbecue tent outside the center and serve hamburgers, hot dogs and ribs, in addition to other catered food.
After his meeting was over, Seidl told his staff to get ready and talked to Yamali, Seidl testified.
“I told him it was going to be a very large job, and we were going to do it,” he said.
The call never came.
Also Thursday, Tara Baglietto of West Islip testified about her time as corporate marketing director for the Singh Hospitality Group in the second half of 2014.
She said that when she started in June of that year, she saw no evidence of any prior marketing efforts and essentially had to “start from scratch” while working in a basement office of what was then Singh’s Chow Down Diner in Bethpage.
Baglietto said she had no idea Linda Mangano had ever worked for Singh.
Her interaction with Linda Mangano primarily was related to the county executive’s wife’s role running the Bethpage Tribune, Baglietto testified.
At the request of Singh’s wife, Ruby, Baglietto reached out to Linda Mangano and asked her to run an ad in the Tribune, Baglietto said.
It wasn’t a professional interaction, she said.
She described it as more casual and said it was clear that Linda Mangano was being asked to run the ad as a favor to her friend Ruby Singh.
Baglietto said she never saw an invoice for the ad.
She also testified that she had the understanding that Linda Mangano worked for the Bethpage Tribune, not for the Singhs.
Under questioning by Linda Mangano’s attorney, John Carman of Garden City, Baglietto said she started from scratch when she began working for Singh, and there were no marketing projects left for her to continue.
There was none from Linda Mangano and none from those who have testified during the course of the trial as having done marketing work for Singh, Baglietto said.