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Power on trial: Defense lawyers go after Harendra Singh

Harendra Singh is seen leaving the federal courthouse

Harendra Singh is seen leaving the federal courthouse in Central Islip on Thursday, March 8, 2018. Credit: James Carbone

Whittling away

Kevin Keating, the attorney for Edward Mangano, Nassau’s former county executive, continued cutting away at the credibility of former restauranteur Harendra Singh. Keating’s attack came Wednesday during the federal corruption trial of Mangano, former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and Mangano’s wife, Linda.

In talking about a contract the county awarded to a bakery owned by Singh’s wife, Keating noted that at one point Singh said the store front bakery was 2,000 square feet.

A few minutes later, Keating referred to other Singh testimony that the business occupied 3,000 square feet.

“In the space of 10 pages, H. Singh’s bakery grew by 1,000 square feet,” Keating said.

Keating also attacked Singh’s testimony that Mangano asked him to launder cash that another prosecution witness, contractor Anthony Gulino, said he gave Mangano.

For one thing, Keating pointed out, investigators who examined multiple Mangano family accounts found no evidence to substantiate Gulino’s claim.

“They have found nothing in the Manganos’ bank account, zip,” Keating said.

John Carman, Linda Mangano’s attorney, also called Singh a liar.

Venditto’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, took that up a notch.

“Harendra Singh is a sociopath,” Agnifilo said.

Noting the warmth of Singh’s messages to members of the Venditto family, Agnifilo said, “He doesn’t actually feel love. He uses love like a tool to get what he wants.”

As for Venditto and other officials, “Nobody in the town of Oyster Bay saw him coming,” Agnifilo said of Singh.

A study in contrasts

Keating, Carman and Agnifilo showed contrasting styles in their final arguments.

For jurors used to hearing the defense attorneys speak more in sentences than full paragraphs, it was a chance to hear all the lawyers stretch themselves. Earlier in the trial, under the tight constraints of cross-examination, the lawyers mostly had posed precise questions of witnesses aimed at soliciting very specific answers.

Keating pretty much stayed behind the lectern Wednesday, his tone varying between soothing and indignant over the testimony of some witness or piece of evidence.

Carman, when his turn came, talked softly to jurors — so softly that, at times, extreme attentiveness was required to catch every word.

The jury appeared attentive during Carman’s summation, during which he carefully dissected how FBI agents did, and did not, take notes in interviews with Linda Mangano. He appeared to be aiming to mitigate potential damage to his client for statements she made to federal officials.

The last one up, Agnifilo, moved around the most — from behind a smaller courtroom lectern, to its side, and to the front, where at times he rested a hand on the rail of the jury box.

Smiles from family members

For the family and other supporters of the Manganos and Venditto, Wednesday was a good day.

There were smiles and a few tears after Keating finished, with supporters coming up to hug or shake Edward Mangano’s hand during a break in proceedings.

During Carman’s summations, there was supportive laughter from the spectator section, followed, at the finish, by more tears and hugs.

Help from a juror

At one point Wednesday, Agnifilo stalled while trying to recall the name of a lawyer.

“Paul Weiss?” a juror piped up.

Agnifilo’s summation is slated to continue Thursday, after which the prosecution will make its last argument.

For the prosecution

All three defense attorneys took aim at prosecutors Wednesday.

“How dare you,” Keating exclaimed at one point, accusing the government of bringing speakers into the courtroom that distorted the sound of a recorded conversation between Singh and Frederick Mei, Oyster Bay’s former deputy town attorney, who wore a wire for the FBI.

“We gave you headphones and a transcript,” Keating reminded jurors.

After the first attempt at playing the tape failed, jurors were given transcripts and headphones over which to hear the conversation.

In it, Mei asks Singh what Mangano did for him.

“Nothing,” Singh replied.

Carman took several swipes at FBI agent Laura Spence. At one point, Carman told jurors Spence had a “cheat sheet” of Linda Mangano’s alleged false statements.

“I had no idea what Agent Spence had in her lap during her testimony,” said Carman. He also told jurors he had no idea what Mangano’s alleged false statements were until, during cross-examination, he queried Spence about the summary document she had in her lap.

Agnifilo also told jurors that prosecutors had to change course after Agnifilo’s cross-examination of Leonard Genova, Oyster Bay’s former town attorney, elicited testimony about pages in a document signed by Venditto that later were “swapped out” for new pages.

“Was it an arts and crafts project?” Agnifilo asked.

A tip or two

Keating did double duty in attempting to counter testimony from Singh employees that Mangano was a poor tipper, and testimony by Singh that he gave Mangano free meals in return for helping Singh’s businesses.

Keating told jurors that on Nov. 3, 2012, a charge on Mangano’s personal credit card showed that he paid for a meal at H.R. Singletons. At the same time, Keating said, emails introduced at trial showed that Craig Craft, then-head of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, was working at the time to give Singh a contract to deliver food to the facility after superstorm Sandy.

The meal cost $341.97.

Keating said Mangano also left a $100 tip. That works out to a 29.2 percent tip.

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