A Long Island restaurateur testified under oath Thursday that he bribed New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and others to receive favorable treatment from the city.
Harendra Singh, the owner of the restaurant Water’s Edge, said he steered money to de Blasio’s campaign to deal with property matters including better terms of his lease, the New York Times reports. Singh said that on many occasions they discussed his restaurant lease and donations to de Blasio in the same conversation and that the mayor was actively working on the illegal activity.
"He made many phone calls," Singh said about de Blasio. "His office was working very hard, from his deputy mayor to his assistant to his intergovernmental affairs person. Everyone was working."
Singh's testimony came during the corruption trial of former Nassau County executive Edward Mangano and former Town of Oyster Bay supervisor John Venditto. The restauranteur has pleaded guilty to bribing both of them. Mangano and Venditto are on trial for charges that include extortion, honest services fraud, and conspiracy. They may face decades in prison.
According to Singh, de Blasio requested contributions from him and, when Singh mentioned the contribution limit, the mayor told him to find a way around it. De Blasio simply said, "Listen, I don’t want to know. Just do what you have to do," according to Singh.
Records show Singh, his family, and other associates donated tens of thousands of dollars to de Blasio, but Singh said he funneled much more to the mayor through "straw donors."
Singh was able to skirt the contribution limit, he said, by having others donate to de Blasio and receive reimbursement from Singh. De Blasio and Singh discussed these straw donors twice, the witness testified.
The mayor has said Singh is just trying to avoid jail time by accusing him.
"It was thoroughly looked at, and there’s a reason there were no charges brought, because there was nothing there," de Blasio said in January.
Singh testified that their improper relationship goes back to de Blasio’s time as public advocate, a job he held from 2010 to 2013. He said Thomas Garry, a lawyer and Democratic Party official, connected the two of them when Singh was looking for help from the city with his lease and an issue with a nearby pier.
A pier that was near Singh’s Water’s Edge restaurant needed to be replaced, and Singh did not want to pay for it. During that time, he was also carrying on lease negotiations with the city, which he discussed with de Blasio at various points.
"Did you give these contributions as bribes to Bill de Blasio?" Catherine Mirabile, an assistant United States attorney, asked Singh.
"Yes," he replied.
Lawyers for the defense have argued it is not fair for their clients to be prosecuted and not de Blasio. Venditto’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said last week he might request de Blasio testify.
"It depends what Singh says," Agnifilo said.
The trial is expected to go on for another month, and de Blasio will likely be discussed further during cross-examination next week.