- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) - The highest elected official in a large county outside New York City and a town supervisor pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges that they conspired to receive bribes and kickbacks from a businessman in exchange for helping him obtain $20 million in loan guarantees.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, along with Mangano’s wife Linda, were named in the 13-count indictment alleging extortion, bribery, fraud and obstruction charges.

The three pleaded not guilty at their arraignments in U.S. District Court in Central Islip and were freed on $500,000 bond each. The charges were the latest in a series of recent scandals involving public officials on Long Island.

“Yet again, we announce a breach of trust by two of our public officials,” U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said at a press conference. “Both of these men undermined the very system of laws they promised to uphold by furthering their personal interests rather than the best interests of their constituents.”

Linda Mangano is charged with accepting a $450,000 no-show job at the businessman’s restaurant, and lying to federal investigators. Edward Mangano and his wife also are charged with accepting vacations to Florida and the Caribbean, as well as other gifts including a $7,300 watch, two chairs valued at nearly $7,000, and $3,700 in hardwood flooring for the couple’s Bethpage, New York, bedroom.

The indictment says Edward Mangano and Venditto received bribes and kickbacks for assisting in guaranteeing loans to the businessman, and that Venditto also lied to investigators.

Prosecutors did not publicly identify the businessman. But Harendra Singh, the former owner of a Bethpage restaurant and other facilities on Long Island, is awaiting trial on federal bribery charges involving Oyster Bay officials.

“My priority is to provide Harendra Singh with the most powerful legal defense possible and to continue to fight for him, regardless of who else is charged in this investigation,” Singh’s attorney, Anthony LaPinta, said in a statement.

Mangano told reporters after his release that he would “absolutely not” resign.

“America is the greatest country in the world and I have an opportunity when at the proper time to present my evidence that rebukes any of this nonsense that I would ever do anything that sacrifices my oath of office,” Mangano said. “It is ridiculous but I can’t say anything more. I’m going to continue to govern. I’ll go to work.”

Linda Mangano, 54, who wiped away tears during the arraignment, had no comment.

Venditto’s attorney, Brian Griffin, said his client will vigorously defend himself against the charges.

“Those involved in this scheme allegedly lied about their conduct to investigators, fanning the flames of a fire that became too large to contain. Public corruption wastes countless tax dollars every year, threatens the credibility of governmental institutions, and opens the door for further criminal activity,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney.

Mangano, 54, a two-term Republican who touts his tax-cutting policies, was first elected in 2009. Venditto, 67, also a Republican, was elected supervisor of Oyster Bay - a sprawling township that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Long Island Sound - in 1998.

In other corruption cases, former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son were convicted last year of extortion, conspiracy and bribery. Former Suffolk Conservative Party head Ed Walsh was convicted in March of wire fraud and theft of government services charges and former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke is awaiting sentencing on charges he beat a suspect in a precinct interview room after the man stole various items from Burke’s SUV.

As chief executive of the county of 1.3 million people, Mangano has control over a $2.9 billion budget, 7,250 employees, public works, social services and, most notably, the police.

He has won praise for his handling of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which caused tremendous destruction on Long Island’s southern coast. He also is overseeing the renovation of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum following last year’s move by the New York Islanders hockey team to Brooklyn.

The wealthy county just east of New York City has been under a state-imposed financial watchdog since 1999.

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Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

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Follow Eltman on Twitter at @feltman41

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