CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. — An Indian American restaurateur in Long Island, Harendra Singh, testified under oath Mar. 22 that he steered tens of thousands of dollars to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political campaigns in return for favorable treatment by the city, the New York Times reported, the first time he publicly detailed his efforts to use campaign contributions — as much as $80,000 raised from others — to gain better terms during lease negotiations for one of his restaurants.
Singh also suggested that the mayor not only knew of the illegal arrangement, but that the mayor encouraged it.
“He made many phone calls,” Singh said of the mayor, according to the Times.
Singh was testifying as a cooperating witness in the bribery trial of former Nassau County executive Edward Mangano, his wife, and John Venditto, former town supervisor of Oyster Bay, in a case that a federal prosecutor described as “corruption and greed at the highest level,” the Associated Press reported.
Between 2010 and last December, Mangano held the highest elected position in the county adjacent to New York City. Prosecutors said the Republican began engaging in corrupt acts within weeks of his election, the wire service report said.
“Mr. Mangano lied and accepted bribes and his wife, Linda, had a $100,000-a-year year sham job,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Gatz told the court, adding that the former attorney and county legislator sold himself to maintain his lifestyle, according to the wire service report.
Mangano, his wife, Linda, of Bethpage, New York, and Venditto all have pleaded not guilty to an indictment alleging extortion, bribery and more, it said.
The indictment charges that Mangano and Venditto received bribes and kickbacks to help Harendra Singh obtain guaranteed loans. Linda, prosecutors said, was given a $100,000-a-year, no-show job at one of the Singh's restaurants, enabling her to make $450,000 while doing little besides tasting food, the AP reported.
Edward also is accused of accepting vacations and other gifts in exchange for his influence. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The Manganos said they had a two-decade personal friendship with Singh, long before Mangano was elected, and that any gifts or favors between the families had nothing to do with his office.
Mangano's attorney, Kevin Keating, attacked Singh's character, saying “he lied every day of his life” and could not be believed. He added that Singh received the contracts because of others and not because of Mangano, it said.
Venditto's lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said his client “got nothing of any consequence” from Singh, who he said had a “dark side.”
Outside court, Agnifilo discussed the possibility of calling on de Blasio to testify. Federal investigators have looked into payments that Singh had made to the Democratic mayor.
As part of his own criminal case, Singh — who also ran the now-shuttered restaurant and wedding venue Water’s Edge — pleaded guilty earlier this year to trying to bribe Mayor Bill de Blasio in hopes of getting a better lease on the restaurant, according to reports (see earlier India-West story here).
De Blasio was not prosecuted. He has denied taking any bribes and suggested Singh pleaded guilty only because he was desperate to get leniency for other corrupt acts.
“The mayor's got nothing to do with that case and we don't know anything about the rumor,” a spokesman for de Blasio said in response to the possibility of the mayor testifying.
The New York Times reported that Singh testified that the mayor knew about his bribes, saying that Singh raised as much as $80,000 for him in exchange for various deals.
But while Water’s Edge was open, it played a major role in the bribery of the current mayor, Singh alleges.
The star witness in the bribery trial described the favors he bestowed on Mangano, who he said could help him with his business.
Singh told the court March 15 he rented a building to the Republican at a discount, gave his office free food and bought him a $3,000 office chair, the report added.
The Manganos say they were longtime friends with Singh, and that any favors were because of their personal ties.
The restaurateur admitted that the thousands in donations were primarily to get help on the business where he was behind on rent payments and wanted a lease renewal, according to the report.
Singh testified that in 2013, Mangano handed him $3,600 in cash and asked him to swap it out with new bills. Singh said Mangano was afraid the money was marked after receiving it from a home contractor who had done work for the county executive and then kicked his fees back – hoping to curry favor with him, according to reports.
Rather than question Mangano, Singh said he did as he was told even though he knew it was against the law, reports added.
"This was not something to be shared with anybody. This was not something legal. This was under-the-table money given to Ed Mangano for the work that was done at his house," said Singh.
Singh also testified that he spent thousands on limousine rides and car service for Venditto, his family and the men he describes as the supervisor's two lieutenants – campaign chairman Rich Porcelli and Deputy Town Supervisor Leonard Genova, a News12 Long Island report said.
Singh said in 2010, he paid more than $1,000 in vehicles for a bachelor party for Venditto’s son, Michael, the News12 report said.
He said he also spent more than $1,300 for Michael's fiancé’s bachelorette party transportation and more than $1,700 for vehicles on the couple's wedding day.
When asked why Singh provided these services, he said his businesses were reliant on good relations with the county and the town, the report said.
"You don't question someone who, with one action, can throw you out from your investment," said Singh.
Singh testified earlier that he was able to secure a loan guarantee of $20 million by the Town of Oyster Bay through bribes involving both Mangano, Venditto and a no-show job provided to Linda Mangano, it added.