Prosecutors Call It A ‘Case About Corruption And Greed At The Highest Levels’

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Opening statements began Wednesday in the bribery trial of former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano.

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, a scathing picture of corruption was painted in federal court. Once the county’s top ranking lawmaker, Mangano faces up to 20 years as an alleged law-breaker.

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“This is our system of justice. I have to have confidence in it,” he told reporters outside the courthouse in Central Islip.

Prosecutors told the jury, “This is a case about corruption and greed at the highest levels of county and town government.”

The former county executive and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto stand accused of “accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for official acts.” They allegedly sold their offices to Harendra Singh, a self-described restaurant mogul who lavished politicians with freebies, including a $100,000 a year no-show job for Mangano’s wife, Linda – a “pretend food taster job,” for which she showed up three times in four years at his Waters Edge restaurant.

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Prosecutors said Mangano took a big pay cut after being elected county executive and “sold himself and his office to maintain his lifestyle.” In exchange, he allegedly steered “county contracts to Singh – all disgustingly and shamefully at the expense of Nassau County taxpayers” and pressed Venditto to secure millions in town-guaranteed loans for Singh.

Defense attorneys argued Mangano and Singh’s close friendship began long before either man had money or power, and that Linda’s low-show job was not illegal.

“A vacation is not a crime,” they told the jury. “What did Mangano do for Singh? Nothing.”

Testimony begins Thursday with Singh, the government’s star witness. Defense attorneys paint him as incapable of telling the truth, betraying his closest friend to avoid decades in prison. Prosecutors say the restauranteur had the county’s most powerful politicians on his retainer.

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Mangano and Venditto are charged with bribery and defrauding taxpayers, while Linda is charged with obstruction of justice. All three are pleading not guilty.