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Power on Trial: Singh, in testimony, drops a lot of names

Harendra Singh walks out of federal court in

Harendra Singh walks out of federal court in Central Islip on Aug. 3, 2016. Credit: James Carbone

Name dropper

At one point during Thursday’s testimony, Harendra Singh was asked to name officials who met with then-Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto at a private basement meeting room at H.R. Singleton’s in Bethpage.

Among the names he listed was Chuck Ribando, a former investigator with the Nassau County district attorney’s office, who later served as former County Executive Edward Mangano’s deputy county executive for public safety.

Earlier, Singh had testified about arranging limousine service and a complimentary meal at Water’s Edge, Singh’s restaurant in Queens, for a former detective investigator in the district attorney’s office, Michael Falzarano, and a girlfriend.

With that, Singh’s testimony over four days in the trial of Mangano, his wife, Linda, and Venditto had reached into:

The state judiciary, with mention of Judge Timothy S. Driscoll; the Nassau police department, with mention of two former commissioners, Thomas Dale and Thomas Krumpter; the county executive’s office, with mention of Edward Mangano and a host of county commissioners; the county legislature, with mention of former Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt; the state, with mention of former state Sen. Michael Venditto, the supervisor’s son; and the sheriff’s office, with mention of former Sheriff Michael Sposato.

Thursday morning, the district attorney’s office joined the crowd. And by day’s end, Singh also had dropped a legion of other names, including Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), whom Singh lobbied to resolve visa issues for family in India; Edward Ambrosino, a Hempstead Town Board member, who Singh said was an attorney who handled the closing on a piece of property in Bethpage that Singh helped Mangano sell; Victor Politi, president of the Nassau University Medical Center, whom Singh said he lobbied to get a friend’s daughter transferred from one county job to the hospital; and the Garry brothers — Thomas, vice chairman of the Nassau Democratic Party who, Singh said, introduced him to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and William, an attorney who Singh said was on the telephone during one meeting as Singh tried to broker a deal to extend the lease and resolve other issues with New York City over his Long Island City restaurant, Water’s Edge.

Singh also testified that he bundled campaign contributions for de Blasio, a former public advocate, during de Blasio’s primary and general election campaigns for mayor.

Power player

During testimony Thursday afternoon, Singh covered an astonishingly wide range of topics: Jobs he wrangled for friends, and friends of friends; meetings with de Blasio; a Mangano-owned building he said Mangano asked him sell; and an envelope of cash he said Mangano had asked him to launder.

Singh also detailed some of his own actions.

He said he got a family member a job as a county budget analyst.

He said he got one of his restaurant company employees a job in Nassau’s department of emergency services.

He said he got “a friend of my father’s friend” a job in Nassau’s social services.

And, he said, he got “a daughter of a very dear friend of mine” transferred from the county housing authority to Nassau University Medical Center.

“She is working in the housing authority with not much to do,” Singh testified. “She has a degree in health so she would prefer to be in the hospital.”

She also preferred a salary, Singh testified, of “close to $100,000 a year.”

Paying for a limousine ride

According to Singh’s testimony, he footed the bill for a lot of items for Nassau officials — and Thursday morning much of it touched on Singh paying limousine services for the cost of rides for John Venditto, family members and friends, and other Oyster Bay officials.

But, Singh testified, there came an instance when former Oyster Bay deputy supervisor and town attorney Leonard Genova decided to give him a check.

“He came to me and he gave me a $1,500 check,” Singh said, noting Genova’s concern about Newsday.

“ ‘I don’t want these guys beating up on me,’” he quoted Genova as saying, “ ‘so take the check and pay it to the limo.’ ”

Singh didn’t specify how Newsday concerned Genova.

In 2015, the paper reported that Genova — who was then a member of the town’s ethics board — had written a $1,650 check for car service in October 2013.

The report quoted an attorney who said Genova had delayed making a payment because his wife, who died of cancer in 2015, had been ill.

Neither snow, nor rain — nor nor’easter

Workers armed with shovels and a snowblower still were clearing away mountains of snow from the plaza outside the Alphonse M. D’Amato U.S. Courthouse in Central Islip Thursday as prosecutors, lawyers and defendants returned from a snow day to resume proceedings in the trial of Edward and Linda Mangano and John Venditto.

Court was supposed to begin a half-hour later that usual, at 10 a.m. Some in the courtroom, who had to do shoveling and snowplowing of their own earlier in the day, wondered aloud whether every juror would make it in.

Well, every juror did.

And, given the conditions, in remarkably good time.

By 10:20 or so, Singh had settled himself back onto the witness stand — joining prosecutors, defense attorneys and all the defendants, already seated and waiting.

At 10:26 a.m., there were three knocks at the door.

And the jury arrived to hear Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile resume questioning Singh — on his fourth day as the prosecution’s first witness.

Initially, prosecutors had expected Singh’s testimony to run half that time.

As of Thursday evening, there were no estimates on when the three defense attorneys would begin questioning Singh — or how many more days their questioning would keep him on the witness stand.

Inflating Sandy losses

Singh, under questioning from Mirabile earlier in the week, testified — briefly — that he had inflated losses that his businesses suffered after superstorm Sandy by filing false documents with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which aids local governments recovering from natural disasters.

That was before Singh began to detail how he won a no-bid, emergency contract to supply food to first responders and Nassau “VIPs” at the county’s emergency operations center in Bethpage in the days after the storm.

A 2015 indictment against Singh, in addition to other charges, alleged that he had fraudulently obtained about $950,000 in disaster relief funds by filing false documents and invoices with FEMA.

In 2016, Singh secretly pleaded guilty to bribery, attempted bribery and other charges, and agreed to testify against the Manganos and John Venditto.

Code breakers

Mirabile, in questioning Singh on Tuesday, at least twice pressed for him for clarification about wording in text or emails — and why such wording was used.

In one text, Singh, who was pushing for a contract for his wife’s bakery to deliver bread to Nassau’s jail, asked former Sheriff Michael Sposato, “Any news on the war front?”

What does that mean, Mirabile asked.

“That was like a code word for the bread and rolls contract,” Singh replied.

At another point during testimony, when Singh was telling jurors about a second chair he had purchased for Mangano, the former restaurateur said he had the item delivered to the Mangano home with a “Happy Birthday” message.

That was in September, 2012, Singh said — and Mangano’s birthday had been in March.

“Why did you say Happy Birthday?” Mirabile asked.

“We just wanted to make sure he felt good,” Singh answered. “It is just a hidden message.”

Why was it hidden, the prosecutor asked.

“We didn’t want to just say, ‘This is a gift from us to you,’ ” Singh replied. “ . . . We didn’t want anyone to know that this was a quid pro quo,” he said.

“If he was happy,” Singh added, “he would be helping us out.”

All eyes on me

Over days of Singh testimony, Mangano, who sits near the lower corner of a J-shaped table of defendants and their attorneys, most often looks toward the witness.

Venditto, who sits closest to the witness stand, usually leans forward with his head in one or both hands, looking down or across the room.

On Thursday, however, Mangano appeared to be angry as he looked toward Singh, slowly rocking back and forth in his seat as Singh testified that Mangano came to see him one night, asking Singh to swap bills in an envelope of cash Mangano had received from a contractor for a different stack of bills.

Singh said he agreed to do the swap, keeping the envelope in his pocket as he and Mangano stopped by Oheka Castle for drinks with castle owner Gary Melius. Afterward, he testified, Singh went to his flagship restaurant and swapped the cash — later returning the envelope to Mangano.

“He said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Singh testified.

Earlier, Venditto several times broke his usual courtroom demeanor, turning his head directly toward Singh — as the restaurateur testified that he had provided Venditto, his family and friends with free limousine rides.

Singh seldom returns any defendant’s gaze — keeping his eyes, instead, on the prosecutor who is asking him questions, on exhibits he’s asked to examine in a binder or on a computer screen, and from time to time, on the judge when she addresses him.

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