The one that got away
As Monday morning, and testimony by Barry Edelstein of Structured Growth Capital, wore on, a few courtroom spectators at the trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife, Linda, and former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto seemed to be finding it difficult to keep their eyes open.
That changed, however, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine M. Mirabile began questioning the witness about a meeting former restaurateur Harendra Singh arranged regarding potential financing for the Nassau Coliseum.
That was in July 2012, after Edelstein’s firm had helped Singh arrange his fourth loan indirectly guaranteed by the town.
“I know you mentioned Ed Mangano with Nassau County,” Edelstein wrote in an email to Singh. “But I don’t recall the others.”
Later that same day, Singh replied.
“You will meet Mr. Ed Mangano, county executive, as well as Ed Ambercino, councilman from the town of Hempstead,” Singh wrote, misspelling Ambrosino’s name.
Ultimately, there were two meetings, a breakfast at The Woodlands in Woodbury and a gathering at the county executive’s Mineola office.
The discussions included an idea wherein the county could get financing — potentially guaranteed by a stream of revenue from Coliseum naming rights.
But, Edelstein testified, nothing came of it.
“It kind of just fizzled out,” he said.
On cross-examination from Kevin Keating, Edward Mangano’s attorney, Edelstein said he recalled discussion about building a stadium for a minor league ball team as part of the discussion.
“We went to initially talk about the Coliseum,” Edelstein testified when Mirabile questioned him again.
In 2011, Nassau voters rejected a referendum on a plan to borrow $400 million for a new Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale and a minor league baseball park at Mitchel Field.
“If public funds could have been used,” Edelstein testified, “we probably wouldn’t have been there because they could have used public funds.”
John Maguire, a former Freeport fire chief who worked at the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, testified that he followed protocol in trying to find a new food vendor in the days after superstorm Sandy after a state employee told him that county jail workers were washing utensils in a bathroom sink — a no-no health code violation that could have resulted in making emergency workers sick.
Maguire said he called an approved vendor, and had the vendor’s chef picked up — because the chef had access to no gas — and brought to OEM.
Maguire said he believed that job was done when the chef started talking to him about muffins and whatnot.
“That was getting into the weeds,” Maguire testified, so he said he handed that job off to another OEM worker so he could return to other duties.
He said he was in his office when Laura Munafo, a former assistant to Mangano, and before him to then deputy county executive Rob Walker, walked in, cursing about his choice of vendor.
“Who the (expletive) are you to pick the vendor,” he quoted her as saying.
He testified that he cursed right back and that she gave him a retort and then walked out.
He said he selected the vendor from three that previously had been approved to handle catering in an emergency.
Maguire said Singh — who ultimately received an emergency contract to provide food — was not among them.
Maguire testified that he was offered a job in Nassau’s Office of Emergency Management after helping Mangano during his run for county executive.
He said he went to the OEM building in Bethpage, which still was under construction in 2010, and met then-commissioner James Callahan.
“This is going to be your office,” Maguire said he was told by Callahan.
And then the two walked outside.
“This is going to be your car,” Maguire said he was told by Callahan, who died in May 2011.
Maguire, following Callahan’s instructions, went to the county human resources department and filled out an application. But Maguire didn’t get the director of emergency recovery job — because, he testified, he did not have a bachelor’s degree, which was required.
“I filled in the application truthfully,” he said.
Maguire said he was contacted again by Callahan’s successor, acting OEM Commissioner Craig Craft, who died last year.
Just as Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond A. Tierney was about to move on to another question, Maguire jumped in to add more detail.
“I was hired under the Office of Management and Budget,” he said, “but I was actually working for OEM.”
Hiring employees in one department — and actually having them work in another — has been a practice in Nassau government for decades.
Absolute and unconditional
Earlier, Edelstein testified that representatives from financial firms sat down with Oyster Bay Town officials and explained the term “absolute and unconditional” to them in reference to town support of an indirect loan guarantee for Singh’s businesses.
“It’s a term out in the financial world,” Edelstein explained. “Come hell or high water, you get to make the payment no matter what.”
Edelstein said several Oyster Bay Town officials at that time — including Kevin Conologue, deputy parks commissioner, Leonard Kunzig, the comptroller, Steven Marx, Venditto’s assistant, and Frederick Mei, a deputy town attorney — were at a meeting in April 2011 when the term was explained.
Edelstein said financiers wanted to meet with town officials face to face to determine the depth of support for Singh — and to verify “absolutely that the town was willing to provide financial support and stand behind the payment obligation.”
“We made it absolutely clear multiple times,” Edelstein testified, “And they all agreed.”
Under cross-examination from Keating and Marc Agnifilo, Venditto’s attorney, Edelstein acknowledged that lenders wanted tighter language in Singh’s concession agreements, which directed that money due him go instead to lenders to satisfy Singh’s loans.
But, he said, his company suffered “reputational loss” because of its association with Singh.
He testified that he did not know about Singh’s practice of kiting checks, and that lenders had no reason to doubt the veracity of his tax returns and other financial documents.
Singh testified that he had such documents falsified. And he acknowledged that he had, for years, kited checks. Had SRG known, Edelstein said, it would have been “a deal breaker.”
Singh defaulted on the loans that ultimately were owned to Connecticut-based The Phoenix Companies.
“We had a limited number of institutional investors, they were great investors,’’ Edelstein testified. “We will no longer be able to do business with Phoenix as a result of this.”
In addition, he said, “we effectively cannot do municipal.”
“There isn’t much on the internet about these guys,” Edelstein, wrote to his partners in a 2011 email, as the Pennsylvania-based firm began doing due diligence in exploring whether to aid Singh in getting financing for his businesses with town backing.
Edelstein had asked for meeting with three town officials; and Mei had slated a meeting with Conologue, Kunzig and Marx.
But Edelstein went on to detail more about the town — and what he had been told by Mei.
“He said that the board vote is a rubber stamp,” Edelstein wrote. “ . . . Said they don’t take things to the board unless it will pass.”
“Less than 1 percent of what goes to the board fails to pass,” he went on.
As it turned out, a board vote wasn’t necessary to secure Singh’s third and fourth loans, all of which were indirectly guaranteed by the town.
Instead, Mei and other town officials relied on a vaguely worded Oyster Bay board resolution authorizing town help for Singh — which had passed in 2010, according to earlier testimony.