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De Blasio knew about illegal straw donors, restaurateur Singh testifies

“Listen, I don’t want to know,” De Blasio told Singh, according to the testimony in the corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. “Just do what you have to do.”

Harendra Singh leaves the federal courthouse in Central

Harendra Singh leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip on March 8. Photo Credit: Harendra Singh leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip on March 8.

Restaurateur Harendra Singh testified Thursday that he admitted to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio his intention to use illegal straw donors but the mayor said he didn’t want to know.

“Listen, I don’t want to know,” de Blasio told Singh, according to the testimony. “Just do what you have to do.”

Singh said he told de Blasio that he sought to use the straw donation — giving in a person’s name and then later reimbursing them to skirt campaign finance rules — for another politician and a state senatorial committee.

Singh also was a donor to de Blasio’s campaign.

He, his parents, his wife and the people from whom he bundled donations raised more than $54,000 for de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral bid and transition committee, according to city campaign finance records. Singh hosted two fundraisers for de Blasio at the now-shuttered Water’s Edge in Queens.

Asked by a prosecutor about ties to de Blasio, Singh said he and the mayor had “developed a very close relationship” and de Blasio had given him his personal phone number and email.

“Anytime you need anything, just call me,” de Blasio said, according to Singh, who was speaking from the stand at the federal corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his life, Linda, and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto.

Singh, 59, of Laurel Hollow, pleaded guilty in October 2016 to bribing Edward Mangano and John Venditto with perks including free meals at his restaurants and a no-show job for Linda Mangano that totaled $450,000 in pay — in exchange for county contracts and indirect loan guarantees by the town.

Singh also pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe de Blasio with campaign donations in exchange for help with Water’s Edge, his struggling eatery in Long Island City. Singh and de Blasio first met when de Blasio was the city’s public advocate.

De Blasio’s fundraising was investigated by the Southern District of New York, which ultimately declined to charge him but criticized his practices. The mayor has maintained that he and his staff acted legally and appropriately.

Also Thursday, Singh testified that Venditto, his family and his staff traveled in style on Singh’s dime to destinations that included the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway, restaurants in Queens and Brooklyn, and wedding festivities around Nassau County.

The estimated cost for the limousine and black services for the then-Oyster Bay town supervisor and his inner circle is $15,000 for 100 rides, Singh said.

Venditto’s chief of staff, Rich Porcelli, and the deputy town supervisor who later became town attorney, Leonard Genova, first asked Singh to supply the service for the supervisor, Singh said in the Central Islip court.

“I had millions of dollars invested in Oyster Bay,” Singh said. “When someone from the town asked you to do something, you get it done.”

Singh also testified to helping Edward Mangano launder $3,600 in cash.

Mangano, 55, of Bethpage, and Venditto, 68, of North Massapequa, are charged with conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest services wire fraud.

In addition, Mangano is charged with extortion and Venditto with securities fraud.

Linda Mangano, 54, of Bethpage is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.

The three pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys have sought to undermine Singh’s credibility as a cooperating witness. They are expected to cross-examine him as early as Thursday afternoon.

Venditto’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo of Manhattan, in his opening statement last week sought to highlight that the former supervisor gained minimally compared to other players in the Singh saga.

“John Venditto got nothing of any consequence, any significance,” Agnifilo said then.

Citing Venditto’s career of public service with the town stretching back to the 1980s, the lawyer asked, “He’s going to throw it away, he’s going to throw out all of his work so he can get a discounted car ride?”

Singh on Thursday referred to Porcelli as Venditto’s “left-hand man” and Genova as his “right-hand man.”

In response to questions by Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile, Singh testified: “They will say, ‘the supervisor or his family or his friends need the limo.’”

Mirabile presented for the jury a series of email confirmations and bills detailing the limousine service.

Singh said he also paid for a weekend trip — including limo service and a hotel — for Porcelli and his mistress and also paid for then-Nassau County district attorney investigator Michael Falzarano and his girlfriend to take a limo to Singh’s Water’s Edge restaurant in Queens.

Singh said he did this at Venditto’s request.

Falzarano was fired the day of Venditto’s June arraignment on a separate indictment from a Nassau grand jury and accused of tipping off a target of that Oyster Bay corruption probe, Newsday has reported. His attorney has said the allegation was without merit.

Singh said there were “many, many requests” for limo rides and he also paid for car services for Genova, Frederick Ippolito, the former town planning commissioner who died in prison, and Steven Marks, Venditto’s assistant.

Porcelli asked Singh to cover limousine service for the wedding festivities of Venditto’s son Michael Singh said.

“I said, ‘no problem,’” Singh said.

On Jan. 22, 2010, Singh paid $1,000 for an 18-passenger Infinity limo to transport attendees to Michael Venditto’s bachelor party at the Garden City Hotel, he testified.

On the same day, Singh paid $1,300 for a 30-passsenger van to shuttle guests to the Westbury bachelorette party for Venditto’s finance, Antonella Dinuzzo, he said.

And their wedding day, Singh paid $600 for a 13-passenger white Lincoln Navigator for Venditto and a four-passenger white Bentley for Dinuzzo, he said.

Michael Venditto in late 2012 become a county legislator and in 2014 was elected to the state Senate. He was defeated in the 2016 race.

“By the way, were you invited to the wedding?” Mirabile asked Singh.

“No, I was not,” he replied.

Prosecutors presented as evidence a series of 2011 text messages between Singh and the younger Venditto, who refers to the restaurateur as “Uncle H” and “H Man” in the exchanges. Singh calls Venditto “my handsome nephew” in one text.

Singh agreed to arrange rides for Michael Venditto to LaGuardia Airport and agreed also to rides for one of his friends, he said.

“He was the supervisor’s son, he called me to get this done, so I had to do it,” Singh said.

John Venditto rode in a limousine from his North Massapequa home to the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan on Nov. 15, 2010, according to confirmation emails from the limo company presented in court Thursday.

On June 8, 2013, he rode in a limo — Champagne and soda were provided — to The Pierre, a Manhattan hotel near Central Park, according to a bill. Singh testified he paid $598 for that trip.

On Dec. 30, 2013, Venditto was picked up in a limo at his Massapequa home and driven to Rockefeller Center, a trip for which Singh testified he paid $439, charging it to his account at the Woodlands, his eatery on the grounds of the town-owned golf course in Woodbury.

On July 10, 2014, Venditto was driven in a Town Car to Giando on the Water, an Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, according to a car service receipt.

Singh also testified that he paid for an 18-passsenger vehicle for another Venditto son Nicholas to travel to New Jersey, and for limo service for Venditto’s daughter, Joanna, for three days to get to her job at Fox News in Manhattan.

Singh also said he paid for a limo ride for John Venditto’s wife, Christine, and three other passengers from New Hyde Park to Staten Island at a cost of $312.43.

Sometime in 2011, during an Woodlands event, John Venditto asked Singh to get a limo and hotel for Porcelli to romance his mistress, Singh testified.

“He said, ‘Listen, Rich is having some difficulties. . . . He has a girlfriend coming in from Texas. Can you provide some car service and book a hotel?” Venditto asked, according to Singh.

“The supervisor asked me to help him with his [Porcelli’s] new girlfriend,” Singh said, adding, “When the supervisor asks you to do something, you just do it. You don’t question.”

Singh’s assistant sent the girlfriend, Tami Gabel, a June 15, 2011 email with an itinerary for the weekend trip.

A car picked up Porcelli from his sister’s East Meadow home and retrieved Gabel from the American Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport at 12:15 p.m. on June, 17, 2011.

The pair then were brought to the New York Palace hotel in Manhattan and later that night ate at Water’s Edge, Singh’s former restaurant in Long Island City, Queens, which boasted sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline.

“This was complimentary on our behalf,” Singh said of the meal.

The limo also transported the couple to the Broadway show “Jersey Boys.” Singh did not pay for the tickets, he said.

At some point, Singh testified, Genova also asked for rides, telling Singh: “I need a car service.”

Singh estimated he paid about $15,000 for more than 100 rides, though he conceded it was “a guess.”

Genova presented Singh with a $1,500 check after Newsday published a story reporting that Genova took limo rides from him, Singh said.

“He said, ‘I don’t want these guys beating me up, so take the check and pay it to the limo service,” Singh said.

Mangano on Thursday grew visibly agitated when Singh testified about an episode involving Ridge contractor Anthony Gulino, who did work for Oyster Bay and Nassau County and also ran Residential Fence Corp.

Mangano’s attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, had fought to prevent this testimony from being presented to the jury, but U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack ruled it was relevant.

Singh said Gulino “had installed a fence railing outside his [Mangano’s] house in Bethpage.”

Singh said Mangano called him and said he was coming over to visit him at his Laurel Hollow home. “He stayed in his car. I came out,” Singh said.

In the car, Singh said Mangano handed him an envelope with $3,600 cash in it. Mangano told him he’d paid Gulino for his work with a check, but Gulino then gave him the money back in the envelope.

“I paid, but he gave me the money back,” Mangano said, according to Singh. “I don’t want these bills to be marked.”

Mangano was concerned that Gulino may have been trying to entrap him with cash that could be traced, Singh said. “He didn’t want to carry them,” Singh said. “I said, No problem, I would take care of it.”

But first Mangano and Singh drove over to nearby Oheka Castle.

“We saw Gary Melius and had a drink,” Singh said.

Then Singh went to H.R. Singletons and had an employee swap all the bills in the envelope and drove to Mangano’s house and gave him the new bills. “He said thanks,” Singh said.

Singh said he knew to keep the episode quiet.

“This was not something to be shared with everybody,” he said. “This was not a legal enterprise.”

Keating objected to the last part of that answer, and Azrack sustained it, ordering it to be struck from the record.

Singh said that was the only time he did something like that for Mangano.

Also Thursday, Singh testified that he allowed Venditto, Mangano and other Oyster Bay town officials to use a private conference room in the basement of H.R. Singletons — his Bethpage restaurant — free-of-charge. Singh said “95 percent” of the time provided food and drink “so the supervisor and his folks can meet somewhere privately.”

Venditto used the room, sometimes once a week, and at other times, once a month, Singh said.

“They always tipped the server,” Singh said.

Mangano’s food and drink was billed at times to the house account, which was later billed to Mangano’s campaign, Singh said. But sometimes it was free, he said.

Singh testified that Venditto met with a variety of people, including other politicians, as well as contractors, attorneys and consultants. Some of the names included Chuck Ribando, the then-chief investigator at the Nassau District Attorney’s office who would become Mangano’s deputy county executive for public safety, and Michael Spinelli, an Oyster Bay union official.

“What I was told,” Singh said of Venditto was “he liked not sitting in public. ... It was very convenient for him.”

Plus, Singh said, Venditto and the others liked the free food.

“I was a town concessionaire,” Singh said. “They all knew there would be no charge for anything, so that’s another reason.”

Singh testified later in the day that after Mangano secured jobs for Singh’s friends and family after his 2010 election as county executive.

John Cammarata, a former Singh employee, was among the beneficiaries, Singh said. Singh said he called Mangano, who assigned his deputy county executive, Rob Walker, to deal with it. Cammarata ended up with a job at the Nassau Housing Authority, Singh said.

Singh said he asked Mangano to find a job for his nephew, and he agreed. He got work as “a budget analyst or something like that” in early 2010, Singh said.

Another friend ended up in the county highway department, Singh said. A friend of his father’s got hired at his request in social services, and then he requested that she be transferred to Nassau University Medical Center, which was done, Singh said. “It was natural for me to ask him,” he said.

Singh said he also asked that this friend make at least $100,000 a year.

From 2010 to 2015, Singh said it was common for him to see Mangano and Venditto pressure each other to hire people in their respective governments. In one such case, Venditto hired Mangano’s younger brother, Rob, in the town’s public safety department. Singh said that Venditto told him Mangano wanted his brother to be a deputy commissioner and make at least $100,000.

Singh said he also got Mangano to help reduce a friend’s fines for health code violations at a restaurant in Hicksville.

He said he got Mangano to speak to U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) about his cousins who had trouble getting a visa to visit the United States from India. The cousins never did get the visa.


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