TODAY'S PAPER
42° Good Evening
42° Good Evening
Long IslandPolitics

Democrat-connected law firm involved in Oyster Bay deals

Harris Beach worked on transactions that led to charges against Republicans John Venditto and Edward Mangano.

Oyster Bay Town Hall, in Oyster Bay on

Oyster Bay Town Hall, in Oyster Bay on March 27, 2016. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

A Democrat-connected law firm whose partners played prominent roles on the transition teams of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen — and include Curran’s pick for county attorney — was involved closely in transactions in Oyster Bay that led to federal corruption charges against former Republican town Supervisor John Venditto and former GOP County Executive Edward Mangano, town and court records show.

Harris Beach PLLC of Uniondale wrote at least three letters to lenders on behalf of Oyster Bay Town — and worked on a fourth — asserting that concession agreements required the town to back millions of dollars in loans to concessionaire Harendra Singh and his affiliated companies, at a time when Harris Beach also was representing Singh.

The loan guarantees are a central element in federal charges against Venditto and Mangano. Prosecutors allege that Venditto and Mangano conspired with Singh to have the town back Singh loans in return for kickbacks and bribes.

Mangano, Venditto and Mangano’s wife, Linda, have pleaded not guilty. They are scheduled to go to trial March 12 in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

The involvement of Harris Beach in some of the transactions has been reported. But documents obtained by Newsday show that the firm did significantly more work on the loan guarantees than was previously known.

Harris Beach is not charged with any wrongdoing. Hilary Guthrie, chief business development officer for Harris Beach, said in response to questions: “The firm acted legally and ethically throughout our limited involvement with this matter in all respects.”

The federal indictments allege Venditto, Mangano and Singh first used Mangano’s former law firm, Rivkin Radler LLP of Uniondale, to structure an indirect guarantee arrangement — needed because the state constitution bars municipalities from offering credit to private entities.

Rivkin Radler has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

A deputy town attorney then turned to Harris Beach to assure lenders that the town’s amended concession agreements, which included the indirect guarantee arrangement, obligated the town to pay if Singh defaulted on his loans.

Attorneys for Harris Beach say in court papers that prosecutors are expected to call the law firm and partner William Garry, whose brother Thomas Garry is the firm’s Long Island managing partner, as witnesses in the criminal trials.

Those state court records show Harris Beach requested protective orders to prevent the firm from answering lawsuits filed by lenders and the town over the loan guarantees.

“A protective order will avoid placing Harris Beach and William Garry in the perilous position of protecting their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination,” argued James Perkins, an attorney for Harris Beach.

While records show William Garry did most of the Oyster Bay work, Harris Beach has other prominent attorneys.

Thomas Garry, vice chairman of the Nassau Democratic Party and its chief strategist, ran Democrat Curran’s transition team after she won the November election. Harris Beach partner Keith Corbett provided legal advice for Democrat Gillen’s transition.

Harris Beach partner Jared Kasschau, who also was president of the Rockville Centre Democratic Club, has been nominated by Curran for county attorney. The county legislature is scheduled to vote on his appointment Monday.

Former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi also worked as counsel for Harris Beach before his election to Congress in 2016.

Records obtained by Newsday show no involvement by Thomas Garry, Corbett, Kasschau or Suozzi in the Oyster Bay transactions.

Venditto’s lawyer says in court papers that the former supervisor was a victim of a scheme orchestrated by Singh, Deputy Town Attorney Fred Mei and Harris Beach to obtain millions of dollars in loan guarantees for Singh.

Town officials say the law firm aided a conspiracy between Singh and Mei to “misappropriate millions of dollars” through “loan guaranty documents that were concealed from the town and that the defendants knew were a sham.”

Singh secretly pleaded guilty in October 2016 to bribing Venditto and Mangano, according to court documents unsealed last week.

Mei, who was charged with accepting $50,000 and cash payments for a luxury car lease from Singh, secretly pleaded guilty in September 2015 to receiving “bribes and kickbacks” for helping Singh secure the loan guarantees, according to an indictment unsealed last week.

Edward Mangano has been charged with conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and extortion. Linda Mangano has been charged with making false statements, conspiracy, extortion and obstruction of justice. Venditto is facing charges of conspiracy, bribery, securities fraud, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

According to state court and town records, Harris Beach told lenders it had been retained to represent Oyster Bay. However, town officials say the town board never approved a resolution hiring the firm — a requirement for contractual agreements.

The only records Oyster Bay produced of a retainer agreement in response to a Freedom of Information request from Newsday were two letters from Mei to William Garry. Each states “We hereby appoint Harris Beach PLLC as the Town’s outside counsel . . . ” Both appeared on town attorney letterhead. Each was signed only by Mei.

Town officials also say the town board never approved a waiver for Harris Beach to simultaneously represent both Singh and the town.

Only the town board can approve waivers of conflicts of interest, officials said.

Instead, the same deputy town attorney, Mei, wrote Garry on town attorney letterhead: “This letter shall serve to acknowledge your firm’s representation of Singh Hospitality Group and to waive any actual or potential conflict of interest in connection with said representation.”

Town records show that most of the Harris Beach work for Oyster Bay was done by William Garry — although a bill submitted by the firm to the town in 2011 included a nominal $262 fee for Thomas Garry talking to William Garry about “pending transactions.”

But town officials say Oyster Bay never paid Harris Beach, despite town records that show the firm had worked on Singh loan agreements over a period of five years.

Harris Beach did not respond to questions asking who had paid them or if Singh had paid them.

During that period, William Garry had asked Mei to agree to repayment terms if Singh defaulted on $20 million in loans. Mei signed his consent that Oyster Bay’s obligations to pay were “irrevocable . . . absolute, continuing, unconditional and not subject to any defense, set-off, claim, counterclaim or reduction for any reason whatsoever.”

Jonathan Clarke, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Oyster Bay supervisor last fall, expressed concern about Harris Beach’s connections to the new Democratic administrations in the county and Hempstead Town.

“It stifles any kind of argument a Democrat can make in Oyster Bay that we are the party that can make a difference,” he said, “I think it’s going to hurt the Democrats in Nassau County for a long time to come.”

Kasschau unsuccessfully challenged Clarke’s supervisor nominating petitions.

Veteran lobbyist Desmond Ryan said he wasn’t surprised to see the new elected officials relying on Harris Beach.

“There is a historical perspective where prominent law firms with past experience [in government] can assist the county executive with the do’s and don’ts of public policy,” Ryan said.

Gillen referred questions about Corbett’s role to her transition executive director Brian Muellers, who said in an email: “The bipartisan transition team consisted of over thirty volunteer members with diverse political, economic and community based expertise in the Town of Hempstead and was in no way involved in what has become just the latest, sad chapter in the Town of Oyster Bay. The supervisor was proud of everyone who pitched in to advise her, including the team’s counsel.”

Asked for Curran’s comment on Harris Beach’s involvement in Oyster Bay, spokesman Michael Martino said: “Jared Kasschau is an experienced and accomplished attorney who will serve Nassau County well. We are lucky to have him in the administration.”

 

----

 

HARRIS BEACH ACTIONS

Sept. 16, 2010: Deputy Town Attorney Fred Mei writes Harris Beach partner William Garry that Singh’s SRB Convention and Catering Corp. was seeking a loan from Madison National Bank for improvements at Oyster Bay’s Woodlands golf course facility. The bank required an “independent outside counsel, stating that the town is authorized to make the necessary amendments” to its concession agreement to pay if Singh defaulted. “We hereby appoint Harris Beach PLLC as the Town’s outside counsel for this purpose,” Mei wrote.

Sept. 17: After Garry had written Mei that Harris Beach also represented Singh and SRB on other matters, Mei wrote: “This letter shall serve to acknowledge your firm’s representation of Singh Hospitality Group and to waive any actual or potential conflict of interest in connection with said representation.”

Sept. 21: Garry writes to Madison: “Please be advised that my firm has been retained by the Town of Oyster Bay . . . to act as counsel in connection with the [$3.3 million] line of credit made by Madison National Bank to SRB Convention and Catering Corp.” Garry says a proposed default amendment to the town’s agreement with SRB “will be enforceable against the town.”

Oct. 19, 2011: Mei writes Garry that SRB was applying for financing through NDH Capital Corp, again for improvements at Woodlands: “NDH Capital Corp. is requiring the town to secure an opinion of counsel letter from independent outside counsel stating the town is authorized to make the necessary amendments,” to Singh’s concession agreements. “We hereby appoint Harris Beach PLLC as the town’s outside counsel.”

Oct. 21: Mei signs an acknowledgment that Harris Beach had no conflict of interest despite its representation of Singh and his companies.

Oct. 24: In a letter to Mei, Garry says the town’s obligations under a proposed amendment to SRB’s concession agreement “are irrevocable,” and that the town agrees it will repay a $7.8 million loan within 30 days if SRB defaults. Garry says Oyster Bay’s obligations to pay “are absolute, continuing, unconditional and not subject to any defense, setoff, claim, counterclaim or reduction for any reason whatsoever . . . ” Mei signs his agreement and consent.

Nov. 16: Garry writes NHD that the concession amendments gave NDH a “first priority” interest in payments “and are not subject to any offsets, reductions, or defenses.”

Nov. 25: Singh gives Mei an envelope with five $5,000 checks made out to cash.

June 21, 2012: Garry writes NHD about a $12.3 million loan, saying amendments requiring the town to repay in the event of default are “valid binding obligations.” 

June 29: Mei receives an envelope with another five $5,000 checks from Singh.

Records show Harris Beach continued to draft opinions for Singh’s lenders through April 2014.

Source: Oyster Bay Town and court records

Latest Long Island News