Two of Nassau County’s highest-ranking officials and one of their spouses were indicted Thursday on federal corruption charges involving a bribery and kickback scheme with a previously indicted restaurateur.
The charges on the 13-count indictment against Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife, Linda Mangano, and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto include obstruction of justice, extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud and lying to federal agents, according to a indictment U.S. Attorney Robert Capers unsealed in federal court.
Mangano and Venditto, both Republicans, got bribes and kickbacks “on an on-demand basis” from the restaurateur in exchange for Nassau County food service contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and four loans guaranteed by the town worth millions of dollars, Capers said Thursday morning at a news conference at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.
“We’re talking about people who used their positions of trust as elected officials to guarantee that a certain result occurred …,” Capers said. “This is not just, ‘I’m your friend, I’m going to do this for you.’”
Venditto and the Manganos each pleaded not guilty and were released on a $500,000 bond.
John Mangano, Edward’s brother, assured both Manganos’ bond, while Nicholas Venditto, John’s son, assured his father’s bond. They could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Mangano defiantly maintained his innocence after leaving court Thursday afternoon, calling the charges “nonsense.”
He refused to resign as county executive, as three GOP state senators called on him to do Thursday morning.
“I will have the opportunity, when the proper time, to present my evidence that rebuts any of this nonsense that I would ever do anything that sacrifices my oath of office,” Mangano said.
Brian Griffin, an attorney for Venditto, called the charges “underwhelming” and maintained that Venditto is not guilty.
“Mr. Venditto has served the citizens of the Town of Oyster Bay for 40 years. He has done it with distinction. He has done it with diligence. And he has done it ethically,” Griffin said. “Nothing in this indictment today changes that.”
As a condition of their release, the Manganos and Venditto cannot travel outside the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Edward and Linda Mangano surrendered their passports. Venditto said he does not have a passport and does not plan to apply for one. Venditto and Edward Mangano also surrendered their legally owned guns.
Capers declined to name the restaurateur, identified in the indictment as “Co-Conspirator #1,” who cooperated with the investigation.
But sources told Newsday it is Harendra Singh, who was arrested last September for allegedly bribing Oyster Bay officials in exchange for loans and defrauding two federal agencies.
According to the indictment, which emerged from a long-term investigation by the Department of Justice, the FBI and IRS, Venditto received gifts in exchange for approving contracts paying Singh for concession services at town beaches, and giving him at least $20 million in town-backed loans for capital improvements at town parks and at his private restaurants.
Mangano allegedly pressured county officials into giving Singh “lucrative” Nassau contracts and also pressured Venditto into giving Singh the town contracts and loan guarantees, the indictment alleges.
Among the kickbacks Venditto and the Manganos received between January 2010 and February 2015 were free meals, travel, limousine services, gifts, including a massage chair and a watch that investigators found when they searched Mangano’s Bethpage home and his Mineola office Thursday morning, Capers said.
Upon Mangano’s alleged request, Singh gave Linda Mangano a no-show job that paid her $450,000 — at which one of her apparent responsibilities was “food taster,” Capers said.
Linda Mangano then allegedly lied to federal investigators three separate occasions about work she performed at the job, the indictment says. Venditto also allegedly lied to investigators about whether he received gifts, the indictment says.
Rejecting the charges, Mangano’s attorney, Kevin Keating, said the county only ever gave Singh one county contract to feed emergency workers in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Mangano has previously told Newsday that he repaid Singh for meals and that they split the cost of vacations they took together.
“This is an innocent man who’s going to go about the work of the county,” Keating said.
The case is the latest in which federal prosecutors have taken aim at corruption in the upper echelons of state and county government in New York, and is the second within a year in which Nassau County contracts have played a central role.
Dean Skelos, the former Republican state Senate majority leader from Rockville Centre, was convicted of corruption last year alongside his son in a case involving a $12 million Nassau contract that Mangano’s administration approved. Sheldon Silver, the longtime Democratic speaker of the state Assembly, was also convicted in a separate case.
Corruption allegations have recently swirled around Mangano’s inner circle.
Testifying in Skelos’ trial, Rob Walker, his deputy county executive, admitted he is also the subject of a federal corruption investigation involving a multimillion-dollar contract.
The indictment also follows the sentencing of Frederick Ippolito, a former Town of Oyster Bay commissioner, to 27 months in prison in a separate federal corruption case. The town’s credit rating was downgraded to junk status in April.
State and county officials, as well as candidates for local and federal office, lamented the indictments.
Some called for Mangano’s and Venditto’s resignations and further reforms in the county.
“Today’s charges and our investigations underscore the importance of passing strict ethics and oversight reforms to protect taxpayers, and I renew my call for immediate action to drain this cesspool of corruption and restore confidence in the integrity of our government,” said Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, whose office was involved in the investigation, in a statement.
In the event that they step down or plead guilty, the Republican-controlled county Legislature and Oyster Bay Town Board would choose Mangano’s and Venditto’s respective replacements.
County Legislator Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), the Legislature’s presiding officer, said legislators are “alarmed by the allegations, but we must allow the legal process to play out.”
“In the meantime, it is our mission to ensure that the operations of County government are unaffected and that we continue
to provide the services our residents expect and deserve,” Gonsalves said in a statement.