This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy, Emily Ngo and Andrew Smith. It was written by Ngo.
A partner with the Uniondale law firm involved in the first of the Town of Oyster Bay’s indirect loan guarantees for restaurateur Harendra Singh testified Thursday that he was surprised to see Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Town Supervisor John Venditto at a key 2010 meeting on the matter.
William Cornachio of Rivkin Radler LLP, where Mangano once worked, said he had expected a gathering of those from the town attorney’s office.
“I didn’t expect someone of the stature of the town supervisor to be there,” Cornachio said.
Asked if he was surprised to see the county executive there, Cornachio responded: “Yes, for the same reason.”
Cornachio’s detailed testimony in the federal corruption trial of Mangano and Venditto in Central Islip stood in stark contrast with that of a colleague a day earlier.
William Savino, another Rivkin Radler attorney who said he considered Mangano a friend, had testified that he couldn’t speak definitively to events surrounding the loan guarantee process. He didn’t list Mangano and Venditto as among those he remembered were at the meeting.
Savino repeatedly responded to a prosecutor’s questions with variations of “I don’t recall” and “I don’t have a recollection,” prompting U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack to pause the examination and confer confidentially with attorneys.
Town-guaranteed loans, which would come to total more than $20 million over the years, are at the heart of prosecutors’ alleged bribery case against Mangano and Venditto.
Charges against Mangano, 56, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, who are no longer in elected office, include conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, honest-services fraud, extortion for Mangano and securities fraud for Venditto. They have pleaded not guilty.
Mangano’s wife, Linda, 54, also of Bethpage, is standing trial with them and has pleaded not guilty to charges that include obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.
Singh, 59, of Laurel Hollow, testified that he bribed Edward Mangano and Venditto with benefits including free meals from his restaurants, a no-show job for Linda Mangano that netted $450,000 in pay and free limousine services for Venditto.
Singh said that in exchange the officials helped him to secure county contracts and town-guaranteed loans.
Cornachio, like Savino, donated to Mangano’s campaigns but said Savino was much closer to Mangano.
He testified Thursday that he left the April 28, 2010 meeting at Venditto’s North Massapequa campaign headquarters with the “strong sense” that Rivkin Radler must deliver on a $1.5 million line of credit for Singh.
“It was clear to me that the town wanted to assist the Singh concessions in obtaining this loan,” Cornachio said.
“It was important” that the law firm find an avenue that was “lawful and would satisfy the loan requirements,” he said.
The Rivkin Radler partner said he felt that pressure despite delivering the news — both verbally and via a memo authored by himself and Savino — that the town could not legally guarantee a loan for Singh or a private individual.
Cornachio said they wrote the memo because “we didn’t want to walk into this meeting empty-handed,” but he admitted the alternatives they proposed in it “all stink.”
Cornachio said the meeting was to deliver the firm’s verdict that a guarantee wasn’t legal, but also offer “something short of a guarantee that would meet the lender’s requirements.”
Cornachio said he devised a plan based on Singh’s existing concession agreement with the town — which provided a termination fee if Singh was let go from his contract.
“The solution only worked at the time . . . if the Singh entity already put in $1.5 million in improvements,” he said.
Cornachio said he got assurances from the town that Singh had made that much money in capital improvements, so he prepared documents that would allow the termination fee to go to the lender rather than Singh as “a way to provide security to the loan,” he said.
Cornachio said he believed the documents he drafted did not constitute a guarantee.
Earlier this week, Madison National Bank’s former chief lending officer, Thomas Gilmartin, testified that he viewed the agreement as a guarantee, even though it wasn’t one in name.
The state “constitution does not prohibit a municipality from providing some security to a private person,” Cornachio testified Thursday.
That’s different from lending its creditworthiness to a person or business, he said.
Venditto’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo of Manhattan, tried to show that the agreement carried no risk to the Town of Oyster Bay.
The loan covered capital improvements that Singh had already made at Tobay Beach, Cornachio said to Agnifilo.
“That’s an important element of the agreement,” Cornachio said, because the town had received a benefit already. “If not, in the words of someone who’s in the White House, it would be a bad deal.”
Other witnesses Thursday included limousine driver Noel McClean of Camelot Specialty Limos, which Singh said he used to give Venditto, his aides and his family free rides.
When he drove Venditto and his guests, the rides were billed to the account at Singh’s Woodlands catering hall, McClean said. The passengers never paid, but they tipped, he said.
On a Dec. 30, 2013 trip where he drove Venditto and another man to several stops in Manhattan, the passengers gave him a $200 tip in the city, he said.
“They said, ‘Do not spend it on the ladies,’” McClean said, adding that he responded he was going to spend it on his wife.
When he dropped them off in North Massapequa, he received another $200, McClean said, adding that he knew both were tips not payment for the ride to Camelot.
“He said, ‘That’s for you,’” McClean said of Venditto.
Desver Haywood Jr., another Camelot driver and retired state trooper, testified about driving Venditto’s wife, Christine, and two women from New Hyde Park to Staten Island for a wake in April 2013.
The witness agreed that the “trip sheet” showed the cost of the ride was prepaid by the Woodlands.
He said one of the passengers tipped him $100 “for lunch,” and he got another $100 at the final drop off.
Haywood said he knew the cash wasn’t for the cost of the ride. “It was money for me,” he said.
The Manganos were portrayed as less flashy tippers.
Leo Rios, former manager at H.R. Singletons, Singh’s flagship restaurant in Bethpage, said the couple came in about twice a month between 2006 and 2009 and twice a week in 2009 and 2010. Their meals were usually on the house and they paid only “once in a blue moon,” Rios said.
They “tipped normal,” Rios said, citing that amount as 20 percent but saying that the understanding in the restaurant business is that if your meal is free, you tip 30 percent.
“If you’re not paying for the bill, you’re supposed to leave more than 20 percent,” Rios said.