In 2013, The Knot Magazine chose Water's Edge Restaurant in Long Island City—known for its quality food and stunning views—as one of the best venues in the city to hold a wedding. Today, distressed couples are scrambling to relocate their nuptials after discovering that the owner, Harendra Singh, has been arrested on a passel of fraud charges as he lets the restaurant crumble to ruin, leaving staff unpaid and refusing to return down payments on weddings that will never happen at the venue.
Gothamist was contacted yesterday by one woman—we'll call her Rose*—who had planned to host her wedding reception at the waterside venue in March. She chose it, she said, for its scenic ambiance and the fact that the banquet manager, Kathy, seemed extremely competent and professional.
Everything was fine, Rose said, until earlier this month, when a friend mentioned to her that Singh, 56, had been arrested, his charges ranging from wire fraud to bribery to impeding the IRS. Between October 2012 and January 2015, prosecutors say he attempted to defraud FEMA by inflating the losses Water's Edge suffered during Hurricane Sandy by triple the actual amount, an effort that netted him around $950,000 in disaster relief funds. He was also charged with bribing a government official to secure loan guarantees from the Town of Oyster Bay.
"Harendra Singh ran his businesses through fraud and deceit, using bribes and kickbacks to tilt the playing field in the Town of Oyster Bay," Acting United States Attorney Currie said in a statement when Singh's indictment was unsealed. "He accomplished this by lying to FEMA and the IRS in order to obtain hundreds of thousands of Hurricane Sandy disaster relief funds to which he was not entitled and evading taxes on millions of dollars of sales and wages."
Rose read all this with horror. "Naturally I'm going to be concerned, as someone who read a whole bunch of articles last year about reBar, and thought, 'Wow, this is my worst nightmare,'" she told us, referring to a DUMBO wedding venue that abruptly closed last year, leaving numerous engaged couples in the lurch.
Rose promptly called Kathy, the banquet manager, to confirm that Water's Edge would still be open for her wedding in March. Kathy wasn't sure what was going on, either, though things inside the restaurant were unraveling just as fast—several employees told me that checks written to the staff had been bouncing for weeks. Two high-level employees said Singh owed them each between $6,000 and $7,000—compensation which both workers are increasingly certain they're never going to see.
Not only were employees not seeing their money, no one else was, either. A staff member—who said he was recently fired by Singh via text—said the restaurant's garbage hadn't been picked up in a month, since he owed a trash removal service $30,000. The employee, Tom, added that Singh has failed to pay his food purveyors in months, so though the restaurant remains tenuously open, guests will find many menu items unavailable. "One time a meat purveyor told me that he bounced over 200 checks on him," Tom said.
Singh has allegedly failed to pay rent in three years, and now owes more than $2 million. His other interests include the Bethpage-based Singh Hospitality Group, the properties of which include H.R. Singleton's in Bethpage, Poco Loco in Roslyn and the Woodlands at the Greens in Woodbury and Melville, among others. (A series of investigative reports in Newsday connect Singh to broader corruption allegations in Nassau County.)
Tom, who started at Water's Edge over the summer, said he noticed the restaurant's operations going south within the first month of his employment. "I started seeing people not delivering stuff. People calling for checks," he said.
While the restaurant boasts an A grade from the Health Department, Tom said if a health inspector walked in, it would be promptly shut down. "There's a refrigerator that isn't even working, everything is rotted out. There are flies everywhere. It's disgusting," he said. Everyone brought in to make repairs, he said, dipped out when their first check bounced.
Rose, of course, is crushed. Having already put down $10,000, she and her fiancé can't afford to plan a new wedding. Her mother died in November and this, she said, "is just too much."
Another couple, whose wedding is also planned for March, is trapped in a similar situation. Lucy, a bride-to-be who spoke to us on the condition that we only use her first name, said she booked her wedding in June, unaware of the stack of charges leveled against Singh. "I guess I should have done my due diligence, because I would have seen that he had all these prevailing hour and wage claims against him," she said. "But the place has been open forever and he’s owned it since 2008, so I thought it was basically fine."
Lucy emailed the restaurant's events manager in search of assurance that, despite Singh's alleged criminality, the venue would be open for her wedding. After several days without a response, the manager called her back to say that her own paycheck had bounced, and that she was unsure whether Lucy would be getting her $5,000 deposit back.
"I call every morning while I’m walking to work, because I’m just so angry, because there’s no guarantee i’m going to get that $5,000 back," she said. "I called [Singh's] criminal attorney, he never called me back. Then I called Water’s Edge and I screamed at them, threatening to come down and protest and turn customers away."
"I took it to the next level," she added.
Though Lucy has tenuously secured a new venue for her wedding, others won't be so lucky. A manager told me a wedding is scheduled for this weekend, and though he'll do everything he can to make sure it's pulled off, he's unsure what percentage of the waitstaff will show up, considering they haven't been paid in months.
"I have 206 guests for the wedding, and I have 15 servers. If they don't show up, everything is screwed. The wedding is screwed," he said. "I'll do my best for the guests. I'll give them the best service. If I have to take my jacket off and be the waiter for the event, I will."
Tom is less optimistic about the weekend's prospects. "Usually you need around 16 to 20 waiters, and they're probably only going to have half. And that's only depending if people show up—a lot of people said if they don't have their checks, they aren't coming in," he said.
Tom suspects Singh is funneling whatever money he has left into his other business ventures. "It's like squeezing a lemon until nothing comes out anymore," he said. "He keeps squeezing the money out of this particular place to rob Peter to pay Paul."
Singh's attorney, Joseph Conway, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Were you planning on getting married at Water's Edge? We'd love to hear from you; email reporter Lauren Evans here.
*Everyone interviewed for this story did so on the condition of anonymity, since each one is owed money they're still hoping to recoup.