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Power on Trial: Singh talks patronage, building an empire

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The testimony of Harendra Singh Monday about his efforts to get Oyster Bay Town’s taxpayers to back loans for his businesses was bolstered at several points by emails the prosecution entered into evidence.

There were emails from Singh to Leonard Genova, Oyster Bay’s deputy supervisor.

And from Singh to Edward Mangano, Singh’s friend and former Nassau County executive.

And there were several to and from Singh regarding marketing, graphics and other jobs at his restaurant company.

But while one might have expected emails from Mangano and Genova about the loans to come from their respective government email accounts, Monday’s exhibits showed otherwise.

Genova’s email correspondence with Singh came from an AOL.com address.

And Singh’s emails to Mangano went to an edmangano.com address. There were no emailed responses from that address to Singh included in the exhibits.

Singh said he usually talked to Mangano by telephone or in visits to the Mangano home.

Meanwhile, an email from the spouse of a candidate for a marketing/graphics job with Singh that was entered into evidence came not from a private account, but from a nassaucountyny.gov address.

It’s called patronage

Before an April 2010 meeting about his loan guarantees began in earnest, Singh testified, he overheard Mangano and Venditto talking about county jobs.

Specifically, about a list of Republicans from Venditto’s Massapequa GOP club who Venditto was seeking to have placed into county government jobs.

That would have been four months into Mangano’s first term — which came after eight years of Democrats running Nassau. And, as these things go on Long Island, whenever power changes hands, one party’s faithful were out. This time, it was the Democratic Party faithful.

Republican party faithful were in.

In Nassau, for decades, jobs — among other things — have been used as currency to pay those who do the work of gathering petitions, manning phone banks, walking literature through neighborhoods and helping get the right voters to the polls.

Singh mentioned that Rob Walker, Mangano’s chief deputy and the architect of his surprising county executive win, was at the meeting.

It was held at Venditto’s campaign headquarters in Massapequa, Singh said, in a storefront where the beige front window shades, more often than not, were drawn.

Singh said he heard Venditto ask Mangano about the list of job prospects.

Singh said — in a voice going gravelly over hours of testifying — Mangano promised to get back to him.

Public-private partnering

The Town of Oyster Bay’s initial decision — signed, sealed and delivered by former Supervisor John Venditto and the Republican town board — to partner with Singh is part of a trend wherein municipalities bring in private companies to do what government no onger can afford to do.

During Nassau’s heyday, through the 1960s and 1970s, the county — and its Republican-dominated towns of Oyster Bay and Hempstead — prided themselves on having the best of everything.

In the county, that included a county-owned and operated Coliseum and hospital and a green space — Eisenhower Park — which was bigger and better maintained than Central Park in Manhattan.

In the towns, it was the best of services — from garbage collectors who pulled garbage from beside the house rather than beside the curb. At one point, in several communities, homeowners would rake their leaves in the street, and the municipalities would grab them up and take them away.

But during the 1980s, as Nassau’s fiscal fortunes faded, municipalities — fearful of falling onto Long Island’s third rail of raising property taxes — looked for other ways to stay on top.

For Oyster Bay, Singh — for a while at least — was part of that promise. Instead of the town bearing the cost of improved food services at beaches, or upgrades at the aging Gold Coast Woodlands mansion at the town golf course in Woodbury, a private contractor would do it.

One of Venditto’s justifications for the town’s helping Singh, in interviews with Newsday over the past few years, was that “he has done good work for the town.”

Payment stopped

Singh testified that he abruptly stopped paying Linda Mangano for a no-show job after the FBI raided his business in August 2014 and carried away documents. He said he stopped the payments so that Linda Mangano and his friend, Edward Mangano, would not get into trouble.

“It’s hush money,” he testified, “I didn’t want to get them in trouble . . . I was concerned about them getting into my trouble.”

Elaborating, he said, “I was getting Nassau County contracts so it looked like a bribe.”

“It looked like a bribe?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine M. Mirabile asked Singh.

“Yes,” he testified.

“Was it a bribe?” she asked Singh, who has pleaded guilty to bribery and attempted bribery.

“Yes,” he said.

At the defendants’ table, Mangano appeared to shake his head in disagreement.

Building an empire

At several points during last Thursday’s testimony, Singh was asked about his restaurant empire, which started with an establishment owned by his parents in Bethpage — and expanded, even as he was in fiscal distress, to include eateries in Nassau, Suffolk and The Water’s Edge in Queens.

“I wanted more,” Singh testified, repeatedly — at one point saying that building his empire was part of his “American dream.”

Over time, Singh ran, acquired, lost or sold restaurants in Port Washington, Wantagh, Roslyn, East Meadow, Dix Hills, Massapequa, Long Island City, three in Bethpage and two in Syosset.

At the Woodlands golf club in Woodbury, he said, he added catering and a banquet hall. At Tobay Beach, he went from serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and “soft beverages” to establishing a sit-down restaurant and other food establishments, including a “Salsa Shack.”

Singh’s ambitions also were reflected in name changes at some of his spots.

At the Woodlands, the restaurant became PassionFish, he testified, so “it could sound more Gold Coast.”

As for the restaurant Singh considered to be the flagship of his empire, it started out in the early 1900s as No Bananas Fine Food and Spirits. By 1997, however, Singh testified, “No Bananas was doing OK, but not that well.”

So, he testified, “I hired a designer and changed the name and expanded it to HR Singletons.

H, he said, was for Harendra.

R, for his wife, Ruby — who became his second spouse, he’d testified earlier, years after he had arrived home to find a note from his first wife saying she had left him.

SING, he said, covered his last name.

“Then we added the “L-E-T-O-N-S,” he said.

Lunch break

Singh testified that he catered lunch in 2010 for then newly elected county executive Edward Mangano’s staff every Wednesday for about “three or four months” — bringing food from HR Singletons to the county executive and legislative building in Mineola.

Singh testified, that he picked up the cost of catering for “30 or 40” people each week during that time.

“Our goal was to keep the staff happy,” he testified — adding “it was part of my investment” for “whenever we needed something out of the county.”

Singh stopped the meals, he testified, after being told by Mangano, “These . . . [expletive] people don’t appreciate it, so don’t send them lunch.”

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