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Oyster Bay sues ex-concessionaire, attorneys, investors

Harendra Singh walks out of federal court in

Harendra Singh walks out of federal court in Central Islip after being released on bail on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The Town of Oyster Bay has filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages from indicted former concessionaire Harendra Singh and others over their alleged roles in disputed loan guarantees.

“The guarantees offered to lenders were entirely fraudulent ... phony agreements contrived by Singh and his co-conspirators and hidden from the town and its governing body,” the suit states.

The lawsuit filed June 26 in New York State Supreme Court in Mineola names as defendants: Harendra Singh and his wife Ruby; Singh-founded companies S.R.B. Convention & Catering Corp., SRB Concession Inc. and HVS Tappan Beach Inc.; former Deputy Town Attorney Frederick Mei; law firm Harris Beach PLLC and Harris Beach attorney William Garry; and subsidiaries of Connecticut-based Phoenix Cos. Inc. — Phoenix Life Insurance Co. and PHL Variable Insurance Co.

The civil suit alleges the Singhs, Mei and Garry engaged in a “conspiracy” to create unauthorized documents used to obtain about $20 million of loans. The lawsuit also alleges that the two lenders knew or should have known the guarantees were illegitimate.

“That the guarantees were the product of fraud should have been obvious to anyone with even a cursory understanding of how municipalities work,” the suit alleges, citing the state constitution’s prohibition against municipalities lending their credit to private companies.

Phoenix Companies’ attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

The disputed loan guarantees are at the heart of federal charges brought against Singh, former Town Supervisor John Venditto and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. Federal prosecutors allege that Mangano pressured Venditto to execute guarantees on Singh’s behalf in return for bribes and kickbacks. The three have pleaded not guilty. The town’s lawsuit does not mention the charges against Venditto and Mangano, and states that the town only learned of the disputed guarantees years after they were made.

Harendra Singh’s attorney, Anthony La Pinta, said in an email he was “confident” that Oyster Bay’s lawsuit would be dismissed.

“Town officials themselves approved of the loan guarantees after obtaining a legal opinion from its lawyers,” La Pinta said.

Oyster Bay Town Attorney Joseph Nocella declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Singh’s companies had been awarded concessions agreements — now canceled — to operate food and beverage services at town-owned facilities. Under those agreements, his companies were supposed to make monthly payments to the town and invest millions of dollars in capital improvements at the golf course catering facility in Woodbury, Tobay Beach and Tappen Beach. According to the town’s lawsuit, much of the capital work Singh was obligated to make, and for which his companies borrowed millions, was never completed.

The suit alleges that Singh, Mei and Garry created a series of phony amendments and agreements without the knowledge or authorization of any Oyster Bay officials that purported to obligate the town to make payments to creditors if Singh’s companies defaulted on loans.

Oyster Bay’s suit alleges that Mei hid his actions from other town officials, and received bribes and kickbacks from Singh.

“In a stunning breach of his duties to the town, Mei participated in Singh’s scheme ... concealing Singh’s illicit arrangements from the Town Board,” the suit states.

The suit alleges that on one of the disputed agreements, “the signatures on the agreement purporting to be those of then Town Attorney Leonard Genova are either forgeries or were obtained through trickery.”

According to the suit, federal prosecutors also charged Mei in 2015 but the criminal indictment was sealed. John Marzulli, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District, declined to comment whether Mei had been charged. Calls to Mei’s attorney were not returned.

Mei’s attorney, Gary Schoer, did not respond to requests for comment.

The town’s lawsuit alleges that Garry provided letters, purporting to represent the town, that were used to assure the lenders that the town would guarantee the debt. In return, Garry was hired by Singh to represent him in other legal matters, the lawsuit states.

Harris Beach spokeswoman Francesca Capotorto said in a statement the lawsuit was “without merit.”

“Harris Beach acted legally and ethically throughout our limited involvement with this matter in all respects,” Capotorto said in the statement.

The suit noted that a 2010 agreement between the town, a Singh company and a lender to provide an indirect guarantee on a $1.5 million line of credit was legitimate. The disputed guarantees were unconstitutional under state law because of how they were formulated, according to the suit.

Three lenders, including two subsidiaries of the Phoenix Cos., have sued Oyster Bay seeking to collect on the guarantees. A federal judge ruled in the town’s favor in one of those cases earlier this year and PHL Variable Insurance Co. has filed a motion to reargue the case.

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