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Power on Trial: Just answer yes or no, lawyer tells Singh

Harendra Singh takes the stand in federal court

Harendra Singh takes the stand in federal court in Central Islip on Thursday. Credit: Aggie Kenny

Cross-examination continues

Marc Agnifilo, defense attorney for John Venditto, Oyster Bay’s former town supervisor, kept things moving at a rapid clip Wednesday morning at his cross-examination of former restaurateur Harendra Singh.

He kept things moving mostly by ignoring the bulk of Singh’s requests to answer Agnifilo’s questions with anything but a simple “yes” or a simple “no.”

At several points in the trial of Venditto, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Mangano’s wife Linda, Singh would tell Agnifilo, “I can’t answer in a yes or no.”

Or he would — as he did with other defense attorneys — ask for permission to explain.

Agnifilo allowed him to do so.

But most of the time, it was a no-go, as Agnifilo moved right along to other topics.

At other times Singh, however, kept to single-word responses — more so for Agnifilo than other attorneys.

Part of that may have been due to a kerfuffle in the courtroom Tuesday when Agnifilo told Singh, “No, no, no. Stop talking.”

That led to the afternoon break.

And to a sidebar with defense attorneys and prosecutors.

And, before the jury returned, to Judge Joan M. Azrack’s asking Singh to respond “yes” or “no” whenever he could.

On Wednesday morning, Singh appeared to be following the ”yes or no” approach. But by afternoon, requests to explain became more plentiful.

But Singh, in his 12th day of testimony, also seemed to be growing both weary — and contentious.

At one point, in a back and forth about Singh’s calendar, Singh asked Agnifilo, “You want me to explain that?”

“No, no, no,” the lawyer answered.

After Singh decided to elaborate on an answer, Agnifilo snapped, “Did I ask you that?”

“No,” Singh said, “but I am clarifying.”

On Wednesday, Singh also challenged Agnifilo, “You are reading only what you want to read,” he protested at one point about a defense exhibit.

“Well,” said Agnifilo, “we can read” some of the others.

Greetings from Nicaragua

There he was, then Oyster Bay Deputy Town Attorney Fred Mei, standing — in what appeared to be a photocopy of a photograph — at a volcano in Nicaragua.

“Do you know why the deputy town attorney is sending you a picture from the top of the volcano?” Agnifilo asked Singh, as the image of a smiling Mei showed on monitors, as well as the courtroom’s largest screen, which is behind and above the witness stand.

“No,” Singh said.

“Did it make you happy?” Agnifilo pressed, as some spectators laughed.

“I was not dancing,” Singh replied, as the laughter grew.

“As I said,” the witness continued, “he was a very close friend, yes.”

Musical chairs

For two days now, Linda Mangano’s seat at the J-shaped defense table has been closest to the witness stand.

While her husband, Edward Mangano, continues glaring at his former friend, Singh, from the table’s elbow, Linda Mangano does not look at Singh.

Venditto — who moved from the top to the bottom of the defense table once Agnifilo began cross-examination — rarely looked Singh’s way when he was the defendant seated closest to Singh.

On Wednesday, that changed when Singh started talking about members of Venditto’s family.

Singh was asked, repeatedly, about professions of love he expressed in text messages for Venditto family members.

“I love you, my nephew,” he wrote in a text message to one Venditto son.

“I love you, my son,” he wrote in another.

Singh said he did love the family.

But — repeating what has become a mantra during his testimony — there was a business element to the relationship with Venditto, and for that matter, the Manganos.

“I did what I had to protect my business and myself,” he said.

“Do you have a real relationship with anybody?” Agnifilo asked.

The prosecution objected.

The judge sustained.

Whoo who?

“Whoo-hoo,” Mei wrote Singh when it looked as if one of the many Oyster Bay Town-guaranteed loans would go through.

“What does ‘whoo-hoo’ mean?” Agnifilo, who introduced the email into evidence, asked Singh.

“I don’t know what that means,” Singh responded.

“You know, like a celebratory (and here, Agnifilo repeated the phrase, with gusto), ‘whoo-hoo!’ ”

“Could be,” Singh conceded.

“Have you ever had someone say, whoo-hoo?” Agnifilo said.

“I don’t have a clue what that means,” Singh said.

At which time, Agnifilo moved on, “A month after the whoo-hoo email . . . ”

Send in the donkeys

Singh testified that he suggested a prominent politically-connected law firm, Harris Beach, to help his quest of having Oyster Bay guarantee loans. He said he made the suggestion to town officials, including Leonard Genova, the former town attorney who is expected to be a prosecution witness.

“I was told by Lennie Genova that since it was a Democratic firm he was even more comfortable with them,” Singh testified.

A few moments later, Agnifilo asked for elaboration on that testimony.

“He knows Harris Beach was a Democratic law firm and he was OK with it,” Singh testified.

“Was Leonard Genova a Republican?,” Agnifilo asked.

“Yes,” Singh replied.

“Was Oyster Bay a Republican administration?”

“Yes,” Singh replied.

Real estate bust

Singh was asked about a visit to Dubai.

“I was looking to buy some real estate,” Singh explained.

Agnifilo asked whether Singh had sent Mei emails having to do with properties in Dubai.

“I don’t remember anything what you say,” Singh replied. “I was looking to buy an apartment.”

Singh said he wired a $100,000 payment for a one-bedroom condo in a building that was supposed to be constructed in a developing part of the city.

“It was never built,” he said. “I lost everything. ”

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