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Power on Trial: The signs of lying

At the trial of John Venditto and Edward and Linda Mangano, an FBI agent testified about signs an interview subject is lying.

John Venditto arrives at the federal courthouse in

John Venditto arrives at the federal courthouse in Central Islip on Tuesday. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A seat at the table

In an interview with FBI agents and prosecutors, John Venditto, Oyster Bay’s former town supervisor, drew a sketch of who sat where during an April 28, 2010, meeting, FBI Special Agent Laura Spence testified Thursday. Spence testified during the federal trial of Venditto, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Mangano’s wife, Linda.

The sketch, projected on the courtroom’s big screen, showed Venditto at the top of the rectangle and former restaurateur Harendra Singh, the town’s outside attorney Jonathan Sinnreich and “R/R” — a designation for an unidentified attorney from the Rifkin Radler law firm — seated along one side, to Venditto’s left.

The sketch also showed Leonard Genova, then-Oyster Bay Town attorney, seated on the side of the table to Venditto’s right. Edward Mangano and two more R/Rs were seated together at the foot of the table.

The meeting at Venditto’s campaign headquarters in North Massapequa, according to multiple witnesses, proved to be a turning point in the town’s quest to aid Singh’s efforts to get financing by finding a way for Oyster Bay to back his loans.

Genova testified this week that Mangano and Venditto told those present at the meeting to find a way for the town to legally help Singh, who could not get financing on his own.

While Venditto’s sketch showed three Rivkin Radler attorneys, testimony from earlier witnesses indicated only two were present: partners William Savino and William Cornachio.

Those witnesses testified that Rob Walker, Mangano’s then-chief deputy, was at that table, too.

Lying eyes

Under cross examination from John Carman, Linda Mangano’s lawyer, Spence was asked to enumerate some of the signs of lying.

“Diverting eyes,” she said. “Fidgeting, excessive sweating, cotton mouth.”

Carman returned to the topic again several minutes later, asking Spence why the agents didn’t record or videotape interviews. Such recordings, he said, could show “tells or tics of physical signs of being less than truthful.”

Spence said the FBI takes notes, rather than recordings, of interviews with people not under arrest.

Spence also testified she doesn’t look only at physical factors.

“It is also the statements that they make” that also can offer clues “that they may be lying,” she said.

Home help

As in the past, those in the courtroom saw silent video clips of Spence and another FBI agent visiting the Mangano home in Bethpage, first to interview Linda Mangano, and later to deliver a subpoena.

But this time around, Spence was able to tell the jury some of what was going on.

Why was one of the agents bending down before entering the home on the agents’ first visit, prosecutor Treinis Gatz asked.

He was petting one of the family’s two dogs, Spence replied.

And later, Spence testified that she was handing to Linda Mangano a package that had been left on the porch.

And that was the other FBI agent holding a garbage bag as the pair left the porch, Spence explained.

“He’s taking the garbage out,” Spence said.

Although Spence said she could not see, the agent put the bag into the family’s garbage can on the side of the house, she testified.

No wonder — as Spence would testify a few moments later — Linda Mangano “was fine, she was smiling,” while speaking with the agents.

The agents’ second visit with Linda Mangano on Feb. 6, 2015, did not go as well.

After agents delivered the subpoena, “she was visibly upset,” Spence testified. “She was crying.”

After suggesting that she get in touch with her husband, Spence said, “We tried to calm her.”

Sometime later, Linda Mangano — along with an attorney — talked to Spence, other agents and federal prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office in Central Islip.

“Did she greet you?” Treinis Gatz asked.

“Yes,” Spence answered, “With a hug and a kiss.”

Ecstasy

“It’s not a federal crime to give a person a job where you pay them a lot to do a little,” asked Carman, referring to earlier testimony about Linda Mangano’s allegedly having a low-show job with Singh.

“On its own, no,” Spence replied.

Carman said he could, for example, offer the FBI agent a job “for $100,000” and ask her to do little.

“I would be ecstatic,” she replied.

The courtroom laughed.

The bread also rises

Rob Walker, Mangano’s chief deputy county executive, and former Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli were among Nassau officials who pushed the county’s purchasing department to award a bread and rolls contract to a bakery owned by Singh’s wife, Ruby, rather than a longtime vendor who had the lowest bid.

Michael Schlenoff, then the county’s deputy purchasing director, said in testimony Wednesday he was told that Peter Schmitt, then-presiding officer of the Nassau Legislature, wanted to give local preference to Singh’s bakery, which was in Massapequa.

On Thursday, Linda Mills, a county worker responsible for buying food for the Nassau County jail in East Meadow, said in her second day of testimony that she felt pressure to go against her initial recommendation in April 2012 that Rockland Bakery of Nanuet should win the award.

Mills testified that at one point, after she and Schlenoff went back and changed the award to split it between Rockland and Singh’s bakery, she included Walker in her email about the change.

“It appeared to me that this was something that was important for Mr. Walker . . . That there was a deep interest that was unusual, in my opinion,” Mills said.

She said Walker had visited her at her office to ask about the contract, and that he’d never visited purchasing before.

As to why she agreed to make the change, she said she felt she had no choice since the pressure was coming from on high.

“You do what you have to do,” Mills said.

Singh, in his testimony, said he lobbied former county Sheriff Michael Sposato repeatedly — including over pancakes at IHOP — for his wife’s bakery to get the contract.

Ultimately, Ruby Singh notified the purchasing office that she was withdrawing from the bid because of “budget miscalculations.”

Fighting trial fatigue

On the last day of the eighth week of a trial that was supposed to have ended this week, afternoon testimony in Courtroom 920 appeared to be taking a toll. Most spectator seats were empty, except for reporters, a few lawyers, trial buffs and friends and family of Mangano and Venditto who have attended for weeks now.

But Carman, during his lengthy cross examination of Spence, managed to liven the atmosphere several times with quips and side comments — many of which bought objections from prosecutors that were sustained by Azrack.

“We’ve heard from Genova and the tax evaders and Mr. Singh,” Carman began at one point. He was referring to testimony from Genova, the former Oyster Bay Town attorney, Singh and several Singh employees who received non-prosecution agreements for not paying state and federal taxes on their cash earnings.

“You mean the employees,” Spence shot back.

Carman also returned frequently to Spence’s testimony that she and her partner returned to the Mangano home after an interview to tell Linda Mangano that lying to federal agents was a crime.

“Well, the horse had left the barn,” Carman observed at one point.

To which there was an objection that Azrack sustained.

Spence also managed to work in a few zingers.

Carman asked whether she knew that Singh and Linda had “a close friendship.”

“For her, yes,” Spence replied.

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