County head accused of taking kickbacks heads to trial
CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have tried and tried again to take on public corruption in New York, going after several of the state’s most powerful politicians and power brokers. But despite a number of convictions, they’ve been on a bad streak lately, with courts throwing out verdicts or juries deadlocking in some of their biggest cases.
Prosecutors will try again Monday with the trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, accused of taking kickbacks and bribes in an influence peddling case on Long Island.
Mangano and his wife, Linda, of Bethpage, New York, will be on trial in Central Islip along with John Venditto, a former Oyster Bay town supervisor. All three have pleaded not guilty to an indictment alleging extortion, bribery and more.
Between 2010 and last December, Mangano held the highest elected position in the county adjacent to New York City. Prosecutors say the Republican began engaging in corrupt acts within weeks of his election.
The indictment charges that Mangano and Venditto received bribes and kickbacks to help a Long Island businessman, Harendra Singh, obtain guaranteed loans. Linda Mangano, 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. She was charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements for allegedly lying about the job to federal investigators.
Edward Mangano is also 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.
“The Mangano family and the Singh family regularly interacted and socialized together,” the lawyers wrote.
The case, announced publicly in 2016, is one in a string that federal prosecutors in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Albany have made against powerful politicians.
The indictments especially brought public attention to the former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, who campaigned publicly for a need to clean up state politics.
Several of those federal prosecutions, though, have been troubled, especially after the Supreme Court issued rulings that narrowed the definition of public corruption.
Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican, had his conviction overturned in a corruption case brought by federal prosecutors in Albany, and then won an acquittal at a retrial in 2014.
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat prosecuted by Bharara in Manhattan, has his corruption conviction and a 12-year prison sentence overturned in July. A retrial is planned for the spring.
Jurors in Manhattan last week were deliberating in a bribery case against Joseph Percoco, who pleaded not guilty to accepting bribes while working as a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.
Mangano’s case is being handled by federal prosecutors on Long Island, overseen by newly appointed U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.
Prior to the trial’s start, Mangano’s lawyers unsuccessfully claimed selective prosecution.
Federal investigators had also looked into payments that Singh, the Long Island restaurateur, had made to Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As part of his own criminal case, Singh pleaded guilty to paying bribes to the mayor, in the form of campaign contributions, in an attempt to resolve a dispute with the city over his restaurant lease.
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.
In court papers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Gatz said the two cases were different, partly because Mangano was accused of enriching himself personally, not simply accepting campaign cash.
Lawyers for Mangano say they won’t pursue the issue at trial, but they requested broad latitude to ask Singh about his illegal conduct with de Blasio and his efforts to obtain a benefit by cooperating against the mayor.