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Power on Trial: Low-show jobs and witness credibility

During opening statements, on Wednesday March, 14, 2018, in Central Islip, a federal prosecutor said former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano "sold himself" to restaurateur Harendra Singh in order to maintain his lavish lifestyle after becoming county executive.   (Credit: James Carbone)

LOW-SHOW OR NO-SHOW

“We all want a no-show job,” John Carman, the attorney for Linda Mangano, said during his comparatively brief — compared to the two other defense attorneys — opening statement in the trial of his client, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, and former Oyster Bay Town supervisor John Venditto on federal corruption charges.

“It is the way of the human condition,” Carman said.

At that, more than a few spectators indicated agreement, although jurors appeared to remain neutral to the idea.

Carman made quick work of getting a few things before jurors, referring to work Linda Mangano did for restaurateur and longtime family friend Harendra Singh as low-show — rather the prosecution-preferred no-show.

And he repeated — too many times to have an accurate count — that there was nothing illegal about getting a no- — OK, make that low- — show job from a family friend. At one point, he called it “this completely legal arrangement.”

Linda Mangano’s lawyer also made clear that his client wasn’t charged with all of the allegations, such as bribery, that co-defendants Edward Mangano and Venditto face.

And in a tack decidedly different from the other defense attorneys, Carman made the government out to be a bully, more than once describing a scene in which Linda Mangano, after voluntarily agreeing to answer questions from FBI agents and prosecutors, found herself in a windowless interrogation room in the federal courthouse.

Altogether, Linda Mangano talked to federal agents and officials three times, the first time at the kitchen table in her Bethpage home.

“She basically said she had a low-show job,” he said. “And she got arrested for it.”

WHACK A WITNESS

All three defense attorneys started getting their licks in early on prosecution witnesses Singh, Frederick Mei and Leonard Genova — all of whom have deals in place in exchange for anticipated testimony against Edward and Linda Mangano and Venditto.

Singh, the former restaurant mogul, town vendor and Mangano family friend, took the most hits.

Keating, Edward Mangano’s lawyer, said Singh had a good side and a “dark side, a group of loyalists who were committing massive fraud,” he said.

Marc Agnifilo, Venditto’s lawyer, said that Singh — working with Mei, a former deputy Oyster Bay Town attorney, and Genova, a former deputy town supervisor and, later, town attorney, worked together without Venditto’s knowledge. “John Venditto got nothing of any consequence, nothing of any significance,” he said.

Carman, Linda Mangano’s lawyer, said that Singh “has the incentive to make her look as bad as possible so that he doesn’t go from his big house to another big house.”

At one point, he also walked over to the witness stand, telling jurors that after their testimony, Mei, Singh and Genova would walk away from the courtroom as free men.

Singh has pleaded guilty to bribing officials; Mei has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

And Genova, as Carman pointed out, is receiving full immunity for his testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz, who handled the prosecution’s opening argument, acknowledged the flaws in the prosecution’s witnesses.

She made the case, however, that all three were uniquely positioned to give an insider view of how defendants Edward Mangano and Venditto — in what she said was a quid pro quo relationship — received benefits from Singh and, in turn, took actions that benefitted his businesses.

“Singh paid to have Edward Mangano as his retainer and Mangano accepted the assignment,” she said.

POWER PLAYS

Gantz also used a portion of her 46-minute presentation to give jurors a bit of Nassau political history.

At one point, she called Edward Mangano and Venditto “the most powerful men in Nassau County.’ ”

The assertion might come as a surprise to Joseph Mondello, the longtime Nassau GOP chairman, who for decades has run one of the last operating political machines in the nation.

Politically, during Mangano and Venditto’s terms, Mondello was — and still is — the most powerful Republican in Nassau.

As for towns, former Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who stepped down for an unsuccessful run for county district attorney, and former Supervisor Anthony Santino, who succeeded her, were higher on the GOP political food chain than Venditto.

Until this year, when Democrat Laura Gillen bested Santino to become supervisor, Hempstead had been in GOP hands since about 1913.

Also, during Mangano’s two terms, strains developed between the town’s GOP leadership and Mondello — as Oyster Bay Republicans, headed by Rob Walker, Mangano’s chief deputy, aggressively developed their own political power base and fundraising operation.

TIES THAT UNBIND

While Treinis Gatz worked to construct a web binding allegations against Edward and Linda Mangano and Venditto together, Mangano’s defense attorney did what he could during his opening argument to rip them apart.

Treinis Gatz said that the prosecution’s opening witness, Singh, who will be on the stand Thursday, would take jurors “inside the corrupt Nassau County political machine.”

Kevin Keating, Mangano’s attorney, whose opening argument ran two minutes shy of an hour, took pains to tease out the difference between town and county operations — at one point saying that in Oyster Bay the town board “was pretty much a rubber stamp.”

The assertion — at least until the months leading up to an unusually rambunctious campaign that saw five candidates vie for supervisor last year — is true.

With machine-like efficiency, the board would have a meeting in the backroom, and then the meeting in the meeting room — where it was not unusual for every item on the agenda to pass with no discussion.

Among the items passed, in 2010, was a resolution that gave Venditto authority to find a way to help Singh get a loan, the first public action in a series of actions alleged in the indictment against Mangano and Venditto that ended up with town taxpayers indirectly backing more than $20 million in loans to a private businessman and town vendor.

Keating used that resolution, among other town-related actions, to try to separate the town’s backing of Singh from Mangano.

“They were enthralled,” he said. “They were doing somersaults for Singh.”

Mangano, however, wasn’t, he said.

“Singh miscalculated,” Keating said, saying that Singh’s expectation that he would gain favor after Mangano was elected county executive, failed. “Singh badly miscalculated.”

A JURY OF THEIR PEERS

A police officer. A charity fundraiser. A planning and operations vice president. An insurance claims handler.

They are among the panel of New Yorkers sworn in Wednesday to sit as a jury of the Manganos’ and Venditto’s peers.

To get to the panel of 12, U.S. District Court Judge Joan M. Azrack, prosecutors and defense lawyers screened 419 questionnaires from prospective jurors, narrowing the field first to 127 and then to a group of 51.

Prospective jurors on Monday included a few Postal Service and Veterans Affairs employees, insurance company workers, an artist, teachers and graduates or soon-to-graduate college students. There were paraprofessionals, accountants, not-for-profit and hospital workers, an HR professional, a biomedical engineer — who works with “rats, mice and frogs” — a media specialist and a custodian supervisor.

There were retirees. And one woman, who handles distribution of emergency supplies for PSEG work crews, who said she was getting a break from working 16-hour days. (That, however, was before Tuesday bought the region its third nor’easter in two weeks — and also canceled court proceedings.)

Azrack asked one man to explain what a paddock judge does — which is make sure that all is on the up and up before racehorses hit the track.

And then there was the woman who said her job entailed “managing 175 flight attendants.”

“They’re a high maintenance group,” she said, eliciting chuckles from the room.

The judge asked whether the woman was comfortable expressing that thought aloud to a crowded courtroom. “They don’t mind,” the woman answered, “believe me.”

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