Restaurateur Harendra Singh was center stage Thursday at the U.S. District courthouse in Central Islip, as he testified about a yearslong history of doing favors for former County Executive Ed Mangano in exchange for political “juice” to help his struggling businesses.
Mangano and former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto are both facing multiple charges of bribery and corruption, and Singh, who has pleaded guilty to bribing the former officials, is the government's key witness.
Time and again, when asked by government prosecutor Lara Gatz why he did a number of favors for Mangano, a rising Republican star at the time, including discounting a $57,000 running restaurant tab by more than $40,000, Singh responded: “He was my friend. He was the highest elected official in the county.”
According to Singh, when he allowed Mangano to rent a portion of family-owned Bethpage property for his county executive campaign headquarters and later, after Mangano won the election, bought the new county executive a $3,000 ergonomic chair, he expected political favors in return.
Singh described Mangano's alleged manner of asking for things without directly asking, such as for a discount on his staff's meal tab, or the chair, as generally pointing out something that he lacked, and wished he had.
“That was the style of Ed,” Singh said. “He would mention there were certain things he wants, and you understood what he was asking.”
Singh, 59, owned and operated a number of restaurants on Long Island and beyond, and according to his testimony, his connection with Nassau County and Oyster Bay politics began with his joining the Bethpage Republican Club — on the recommendation of an Oyster Bay town official — in the early 90s, continued with a series of contracts to operate concessions at the Town of Oyster Bay golf course and other town properties, and ended with his 2015 arrest related to a series of loan guarantees he got from the Town of Oyster Bay, allegedly with the help of Mangano.
Singh, at one point, said that his past Yahoo email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, spoke to his ambitions at the time as he sought political connections.
“The Restaurant Mogul — That's who I wanted to be,” he admitted to prosecutors.
Singh described his career in the food service industry in New York — starting as a Burger King general manager — and wove a timeline of his numerous, multi-year concession agreements with the Town of Oyster Bay. He also described the process through which he alleged Mangano used his political “juice” to pressure Venditto into obtaining town guarantees for loans to keep his businesses afloat.
According to Singh, Venditto was largely hands-off during the negotiations that led to him being granted the loan guarantees, but made it clear that he supported the deal, and would make sure it was passed by the town council.
During breaks in Wednesday's testimony, Mangano appeared relaxed, shaking hands and affably greeting supporters, while Venditto largely sat in silence, only once conferring briefly with his son, Michael, and putting a hand on his shoulders, before pacing the front of the courtroom and returning to his seat.
Mangano and Venditto have both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Singh's testimony is expected to continue on Friday, and next week he will likely be cross-examined by Mangano and Venditto's defense attorneys.