When restaurateur Harendra Singh filed a negligence claim against Oyster Bay in 2013, the town settled for $155,864 — the replacement price for equipment he said he owned that was mistakenly destroyed by town employees.
The settlement was reached less than two months after Singh filed his claim. It was the second-largest payout that the town approved in 2013, and one of the quickest. Settlement negotiations that year typically took more than a year to be settled and frequently involved attorneys, records show.
The settlement allowed Singh to catch up on some of the back rent that he owed for his concessions at the town-owned Woodlands catering hall and at Tobay Beach.
Singh no longer owns the companies that operate the Woodlands and Tobay Beach concessions. Town officials have been negotiating revised concession agreements for the sites.
Singh was indicted in September on 13 federal counts that include bribing an Oyster Bay town official and filing false claims to receive disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
When the notice of claim against the town was filed, records obtained by Newsday show that Singh’s companies were $170,299 behind on payments to the town for his concessions at the two facilities. A town memo dated Aug. 15, 2013, directed the comptroller’s office to apply the settlement funds to Singh’s back rent and utilities.
“We didn’t want to just give him a check in light of the fact that he owed us money, so we guaranteed that he paid us first,” said Oyster Bay’s special counsel, Thomas Sabellico.
Town Supervisor John Venditto, in interviews, described the claim and the payout as a straightforward settlement.
However, records obtained by Newsday raise questions about the value of the equipment and the price the town paid to settle Singh’s claim.
In his notice of claim, obtained by Newsday through a Freedom of Information Law request, Singh alleged that on May 14, 2013, at 8 a.m., the town highway department damaged 41 pieces of restaurant equipment in the Ocean Pavilion at Tobay Beach.
The notice provides a list of the damaged professional kitchen equipment and replacement prices to cover such items as ice cube machines, fryers, refrigerators, freezers, ovens and soft-serve ice cream machines.
In the interview, Venditto said that some of Singh’s equipment was damaged by superstorm Sandy. A town crew was supposed to remove only the damaged equipment, but accidentally “disposed of all of it,” he said.
An undated memo provided by Venditto lists equipment that public works Commissioner Richard Betz said was “destroyed” at the Ocean Pavilion by town employees. However, Betz’s memo shows fewer pieces of equipment than Singh listed in his claim to the town. The shorter list would have cost about $23,000 less than what the town paid for in its settlement, not including $22,981 for installation and shipping that were also included in the claim.
The Aug. 6, 2013, settlement resolution adopted by the town board said that “after extensive negotiations” the claim was settled for $155,864.
“We did the best we could to verify what was discarded and we did the best to verify the value of what was discarded,” Sabellico said in explaining the price difference.
In an interview, Brad LaBel, owner of LaBel Foodservice & Design Inc., of Islandia, said he provided quotes for the prices to replace the damaged equipment on Singh’s behalf. He also had sold some of it to Singh.
A review of the town’s and LaBel’s records show prices he set on some of the items were lower than what Singh filed for them in his negligence claim. LaBel’s quotes shows replacement costs for the equipment at $130,558.
An invoice provided by LaBel, dated June 10, 2013, shows that the prices Singh paid on many of the pieces of equipment were 15.4 percent lower than what they were in his original quote. LaBel said that is because Singh negotiated lower prices before buying the equipment.
Paul Sabatino, a former counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature, said the town paying full replacement cost was unusual in a liability case.
“The goal is to give the value of what the damaged item was at the time of the incident,” Sabatino said.
For his part, Sabellico said restaurant equipment isn’t like a car, with value that falls the moment it’s driven off the lot.
“I don’t know that a table depreciates or a cheese melter depreciates,” Sabellico said.
Records show that settlements with Oyster Bay typically take longer than the nearly three months it took to pay out the Singh negligence claim. Venditto said there was nothing unusual about the speed of the settlement with Singh.
“When there’s a meeting of the minds on the settlement, the authorization is given by the town board within 60 to 90 days and a check is made available,” Venditto said.