This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Bridget Murphy and Andrew Smith. It was written by Smith.
Almost lost among the tales of cash bribes, free vacations, limo rides and comped meals at the federal corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto is the story of a commercial building near the Bethpage train station.
According to prosecutors and town officials who have testified, the story is instructive because it shows how favors that officials do for each other and their friends can degrade a neighborhood.
The building in question is 329 Broadway, owned for years by Mangano. His older brother John had a printing business there. And the Bethpage Tribune, published by Edward Mangano’s wife Linda, came off the presses there. But by 2011, John Mangano had sold the printing business and Edward Mangano — by then the county executive — was looking to sell the building, according to testimony.
This was around the same time that the Town of Oyster Bay was backing loans made to Mangano friend Harendra Singh, a practice prosecutors say began at Mangano’s behest the year before.
Singh had testified that Mangano asked him if he wanted to buy the building in 2011.
Singh said he didn’t, and then Mangano asked Singh to find a buyer. Singh said that with the help of his friend Kamlesh Mehta, he found Jerry Kohli. But Kohli wouldn’t pay the eventual sale price of $511,000 unless he could expand the building along Washington Avenue onto the property’s parking lot. Kohli planned to put in a T-Mobile store, other retail, office space and second-floor apartments.
Singh said he relayed that message to Mangano. “He said, ‘I will speak to the supervisor [Venditto] and it will get done,’” Singh said.
Mangano and Singh then met with Venditto’s deputy, Leonard Genova; his chief of staff, Rich Porcelli, and others at Venditto’s political headquarters. After the meeting, Singh said Porcelli got town building Commissioner Frederick Ippolito involved.
“I told the buyer, whatever his desire is, it will be met,” Singh said. He said he based that in part on Venditto telling him, “It’s a lot to do, but we will get it done.”
Last week, Genova and Timothy Zike, Oyster Bay’s deputy planning and development commissioner, explained how it all got done.
Edward Mangano, 56, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, face 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, is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.
The three have pleaded not guilty.
Genova said Singh told him that Mangano assured him that Kohli would be able to build on the entire lot. Genova said he realized town building codes wouldn’t permit that. The code required such a building to have dozens of parking spots, and this plan instead reduced the existing parking to zero. That would push parked cars onto already crowded Bethpage streets and into residential areas, Genova said.
Instead of stopping the project, Genova said that shortly afterward, Venditto met with him, Singh, Porcelli and Mangano at Venditto’s North Massapequa political headquarters. Mangano explained what he wanted and Venditto said he’d get it done, Genova testified. Venditto told Porcelli to have Ippolito take care of it.
Zike testified that neither Mangano nor Kohli got variances for the expansion of the existing building at 329 Broadway, or the eradication of the parking area.
Kohli applied to expand the property, but the town sent a letter back with 22 requests for more information before the application could proceed, Zike said.
But Zike testified that in July 2012, the town received a letter from an architect that showed the project was mostly completed — despite the lack of a building permit. The architect’s letter, entered into evidence and displayed in court, had a handwritten “stamp” at the bottom, and a note at the top instructing “Gary” to issue a certificate of occupancy, “as per Fred.”
Zike said he recognized the pretend stamp as the handwriting of building inspector Gary Blanchard; “Fred” was a reference to Ippolito, who died in prison after pleading guilty in 2016 to federal tax charges.
During cross-examination, Mangano attorney Kevin Keating suggested that Ippolito may have acted corruptly on his own, not necessarily because of pressure from Mangano.
Even though the building was finished, Zike testified that in September 2012 the town sent a notice of rejection for the building, saying the plans didn’t comply with zoning regulations. Zike said one of the reasons for rejection was that 32 parking spots were required by law, but the building owner had allotted no parking in a spot near the Long Island Rail Road station, where “parking is at a premium.”
Zike said that after the town rejected the building permit, Ippolito issued one in November 2012.
The town issued a certificate of occupancy in December 2012. Zike also said it was unusual that Blanchard’s eight to 10 inspection reports were all undated.
Now, on the site of the former printing press at 329 Broadway, the building stretches the length of Washington Avenue, from Broadway to the LIRR parking lot. There are six retail or office locations on the first floor, half of which are vacant. An online listing advertises one 4,000-square-foot space for $7,000 a month.
The listing misleadingly says there is “ample parking on lot and shopping mall.”
There are seven apartments on the second floor. One of them, a two-bedroom apartment, was recently advertised for $2,700 a month.
Defense attorneys sought before the trial to keep the entire episode about 329 Broadway out of the trial, arguing it had nothing to do with the charges against the defendants. U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack disagreed.
“The court agrees with the government that interactions between Mangano and . . . Venditto are direct proof of the charged scheme and conspiracy and are inextricably interwoven with the charged offenses,” Azrack said in a ruling. “These interactions also evidence the criminal relationship and trust between Mangano and Venditto during the relevant time period. The back-and-forth exchange of favors between Mangano and Venditto also helps to explain Venditto’s alleged conduct and willingness to take official action on behalf of Singh and at Mangano’s request.”
Azrack continued, “Additionally, this incident provides circumstantial evidence that Mangano had the ability to pressure Venditto . . . Venditto’s involvement in this incident also appears to be probative of Venditto’s intent concerning the Singh bribery charges and conspiracy. It appears that Venditto was aware that Mangano was seeking official action concerning 329 Broadway on behalf of an individual who previously provided a benefit to Mangano. Venditto then took action favorable to Mangano and the purchaser.”