- This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy, Emily Ngo and Andrew Smith. It was written by Ngo.
A former Oyster Bay deputy town supervisor admitted Wednesday that he initially lied to prosecutors about town-backed loans because he was “in panic mode” and wanted to protect his boss, then-town supervisor John Venditto.
Leonard Genova, testifying in Venditto’s federal corruption trial, acknowledged to Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile that he had not been truthful with her when she interviewed him on Jan. 28, 2016.
“You’re in panic mode,” the witness said. “You’re covering up your role. You’re covering up a friend and mentor . . . John Venditto’s role.”
Genova, who was Venditto’s trusted lieutenant, said he and the town supervisor sought to shift the government’s attention to then-deputy town attorney Frederick Mei.
Genova told Mirabile he was “evasive” in his first call with prosecutors in February 2015. He said that when he called back later that day, it was to discuss how Mei had asked another town employee how to delete emails.
“It was the beginnings of scapegoating Fred Mei,” testified Genova, who also was a town attorney.
“We didn’t want to get in trouble. We wanted to minimize the things we did,” Genova said. “And we were not forthcoming and truthful as related to the whole story.”
The witness, who has an immunity agreement, testified for his third and last day in the trial of Venditto and former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.
Venditto’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo of Manhattan, had sought to make the case that Mei — not Venditto — was the town official at the center of restaurateur Harendra Singh’s schemes.
Mei pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Singh and testified earlier in the trial, now in its eighth week in Central Islip.
Singh pleaded guilty in October 2016 to bribing Venditto and Mangano and agreed to be a government witness.
Agnifilo on Wednesday also seized on inconsistencies between the statements Genova made in his initial interviews with federal prosecutors and those he made on the stand.
Prosecutors’ notes show Genova had said in a Jan. 28, 2016 meeting that Singh didn’t pay for the limousine services that Genova this week testified that he and Venditto used.
“Were you telling the truth?” Agnifilo asked.
“No, I was not,” Genova said. “When you’re in denial . . . you’ll say anything to avoid being honest with yourself, sir.”
Genova said he eventually told prosecutors “over the course of 50 to 60 hours of proffers” that Singh footed the bill.
Singh had testified that he bribed Venditto with free hired car services, free meals and discounted use of office space.
Singh said he provided Mangano with perks such as free vacations to destinations including Florida and the Caribbean, expensive massage and office chairs and a no-show job for his wife, Linda, that paid $450,000 over four and a half years.
The one-time restaurant magnate said he received lucrative county contracts and about $20 million in town-backed loans.
The charges against Edward Mangano, 56, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, 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, is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.
The three pleaded not guilty.
On Wednesday, Genova and Agnifilo clashed repeatedly as the defense attorney called into question Genova’s character.
Genova had testified that he had not read the documents for Singh’s town-backed loans before signing off on them.
“And you ended up putting the Town of Oyster Bay on the hook for $20 million, right?” Agnifilo asked.
“You know what, counselor, I had a lot of time to think about it,” Genova answered. “That wasn’t just me, OK?”
Agnifilo noted that Genova had said he never went to Venditto to discuss the risks because Genova hadn’t read the paperwork.
The witness said he had admitted that from “day one of this nightmare.”
Agnifilo contrasted Genova’s path with that of his one-time boss and mentor.
“The nightmare for you is you’re sitting in that seat, you are not sitting in that seat, because you got immunity,” Agnifilo said, gesturing to the witness stand and then the defense table where Venditto sat.
Genova’s lawyer, Nicholas Gravante, Jr., of Manhattan, said after Genova was excused from the stand: “Given his long-standing relationship with the defendants, I think it was evident to everyone in the courtroom how difficult the last few days have been for him.”
Also Wednesday, Timothy Zike, Oyster Bay’s deputy planning and development commissioner, testified that no variances were obtained for the expansion of a building at 329 Broadway or the eradication of the parking area — a violation of town code. Mangano sold the Bethpage property in 2011, and Singh testified early in the trial that he helped arrange the sale at Mangano’s request.
Zike said Wednesday the building was expanded without any permits or variances, and that planning and development commissioner Frederick Ippolito issued the building permit and certificate of occupancy after the fact. The site had no off-site parking, but should have had 32 spaces.
Ippolito died last year in prison after pleading guilty to federal tax charges.
Later Wednesday, Nassau County director of purchasing Michael Schlenoff testified about the contracts Singh pursued.
Rockland Bakery of upstate Nanuet had the bread-and-rolls contract for the county jail every year from 2002 to 2012, but in 2012, a bid was also submitted by the Singh-owned San Remo Bakery of Massapequa, Schlenoff said.
Rockland was determined to be the lowest bidder, he said.
But Schlenoff said he felt pressured by Chris Ostuni, counsel to the Republican majority in the county legislature, to change the award or to split the contract.
Rockland refused a partial bid and withdrew, so Schlenoff then had no choice but to give the contract to San Remo, he said. Then San Remo withdrew because of what Singh’s wife, Ruby, said were “budget miscalculations,” Schlenoff said.
“So after all that, who ends up with the bread-and-rolls contract?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz asked.
“Rockland,” Schlenoff said.
The purchasing director then testified about a contract to provide food to workers at the county Office of Emergency Management when superstorm Sandy struck later that year.
He had brought to the command center a binder listing every registered county vendor for every product or service the county might need, he said. “We call it the bible,” he said.
There were three food-service vendors: Lessing’s, Whitsons Culinary Group and the Dover Group, he said.
The emergency contract, however, went to H R Singletons, Singh’s Bethpage restaurant, Schlenoff said.
Mangano’s defense attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, suggested the push to award the jail’s bread-and-rolls contract came not from Mangano but from the late Peter Schmitt, then the presiding officer of the legislature. Ostuni worked for him.
Linda Mills, a county worker who was responsible for buying food for the jail, testified Wednesday afternoon that then-deputy chief county executive Rob Walker showed up at her office on May 7, 2012 to ask about the contract.
She said that in her 17 years with the county, she had never had such a high-ranking official come to her office.
“What I thought was that the contract, it was being stalled,” she said, adding of Singh’s bakery: “San Remo was being pushed.”