Rashed Mian

Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: rmian@longislandpress.com. Twitter: rashedmian

For Muslim American Voters, ‘Stakes are High’ this Presidential Election

Muslim leaders held a rally at Masjid Noor in Huntington on Dec. 18, 2015 to condemn violence and bigotry. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)


wo weeks before the 2000 presidential election, a group of influential Muslim Americans gathered in the nation’s capital to endorse the one candidate who made an effort to meet with Muslim leaders and address their concerns, both foreign and domestic.

It’s unclear if the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council’s pledge played a significant role in sending voters to the polls, but when all the ballots were tallied—Florida recount and all—it emerged that Muslim Americans had come out in droves to support George W. Bush, as the Texas governor enjoyed 70 percent of the Muslim vote.

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Six days after the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush had not forgotten about these people who helped carry him to victory. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslim leaders at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., Bush famously declared: “Islam is peace.”

By 2004, however, it became clear that the admiration a majority of Muslim Americans felt toward Bush just four years earlier had waned. It was replaced not with apathy but scorn. This time, it was his Democratic challenger John Kerry who would go on to grab nearly three quarters of the Muslim vote, which essentially served as an emphatic rebuke of Bush’s controversial Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent monitoring of US Muslims under his watch. As Bush’s first term was winding down, 69-percent of Muslims—nearly the same percentage that supported the president—said they disapproved of his job performance.

Dr. Safdar Chadda of New Hyde Park was one of those Muslims who found that Republican values aligned with his political beliefs when he moved to this country four decades ago. But after two terms of Bush in the White House, he abandoned the GOP. In 2008, Chadda backed Sen. Barack Obama.

Now it’s unlikely that Chadda, a registered Independent, will vote for a Republican in this year’s presidential election.

“This is a matter of life and death…right now, if you hear the rhetoric,” Chadda, the original president of Westbury’s Islamic Center of Long Island, told the Press.

After each terror attack, the rhetoric seems to ricochet unabated on cable news and in the mainstream media. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s horrific bombings in Brussels, which killed 31 and injured more than 300, Donald Trump reaffirmed his Muslim ban proposal by saying the US should close its borders. His closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, suggested authorities “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” to prevent radicalization. Cruz’s remarks were met with resistance from NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who said Cruz “doesn’t know what the hell is talking about.”

Interviews with local Muslim leaders and national organizations committed to amplifying the voices of this much-maligned population revealed a portrait of a community deeply fearful of anti-Islam statements by Republican presidential hopefuls. But at the same time, Muslim American voters appear more committed than ever before to head to the ballot box, advocates say.

Indeed, a six-state survey released by the Muslim civil rights organization Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in February found that 73 percent of registered Muslim voters said they will vote in their respective primary elections, with 67 percent vowing to support Democratic candidates.

New York doesn’t hold its primary until April 19 but the deadline to register to vote is Friday, March 25, thus the frenzied attempt to encourage people to register with their local Board of Elections.

Chadda said organizing efforts in Nassau County began about six months ago. Each volunteer was charged with encouraging at least 10 Muslim American families to register. Chadda said at least 100 families have since pledged to vote for the next president of the United States.

“The stakes are high,” he said.

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In Suffolk County, Nayyar Imam, the first-ever chaplain of the Suffolk County Police Department, said announcements have been made during Friday prayer at the Selden Mosque reminding people to get registered.

If a silver lining can be found in the fog of election warfare, it may be that Muslim Americans are so incensed by Islamophobic remarks that they’re more committed to head to the polls, Imam said.

“It’s a wake-up call for the Muslims of America,” he explained, “because, as you know, most of us don’t participate in the political system.”

The current political climate may prompt many more Muslims to vote this time around. But, as Imam noted, disagreements over Middle Eastern policies going back to the Reagan administration and continuing under President Obama may also motivate people.

“Obama killed more Muslims than Bush…with the drones and with the wars and with the countless bombing of countries,” he said. “Muslim blood is so cheap.”

Sadyia Khalique is the director of CAIR’s New York chapter. She said the national organization has been busy overseeing voter registration efforts but the local objective is to reach out to people through social media and in the community.

“People have the power to change government. People have the power to get their voices heard,” she told the Press. “Why not utilize that?”

A common refrain among voters in liberal-leaning New York is that the April primary here is insignificant and hardly an accurate representation of the national electorate. But, as Khalique puts it, “What we’re finding is with voting, it’s not only something that’s a physical thing to do. It’s an empowering thing to do.”

“This is a matter of life and death…right now, if you hear the rhetoric”

Absent reliable polling data that would help determine voter turnout by religion, it’s difficult to quantify how many Muslim American voters have already participated in this year’s presidential primaries. Ghazala Salam, executive director for Emerge USA in Florida, a non-profit advocacy group that promotes voter participation in several swing states, estimates that 70 to 80 percent of Muslim voters in Florida actually turned out.

Current estimates put the Muslim population in the US at 3.3 million. That number is likely to double by 2050, perhaps making that voting bloc much more desirable for elected officials.

“We have the highest number of younger people among all the diverse communities, so for that reason, [in] the future they’re just going to grow in numbers,” Salam told the Press.

Still, she added, “You don’t want to marginalize anybody.”

While Muslims have been outspoken about xenophobic comments made by Republican demagogues campaigning for president, some insist the best way to offer a rebuke to those candidates is by making people’s voice heard at the polls.

Advocacy groups said they believe young Muslim Americans are more engaged in the political process than ever before. Salam credits Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is “resonating more with the younger generation.”

Chadda is convinced that anti-Islam rhetoric will die down after the heated election.

“Pre-9/11 Muslims were very well respected, very well honored,” he explained.

Not everyone is as optimistic.

“Our community has already been spied upon,” said Khalique, referring to the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of Muslims after 9/11, which failed to turn up a single lead.

She said that CAIR often gets calls from clients who feel the FBI is watching them. That sense of paranoia is not going away any time soon.

“We always feel like we’re being targeted,” she said.

It’s a Knockout: New York Lawmakers Legalize MMA

Chris Weidman Getty Images

An eight-year bout pitting a dysfunctional state Legislature against chiseled Mixed Martial Arts fighters came to an end Tuesday when the Assembly approved a bill legalizing the sport in New York State, paving the way for huge paydays at venues like Madison Square Garden.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill, which he’s expected to do, New York will be the last state in the nation to let MMA combatants into the ring. Despite concerns from some lawmakers uncomfortable with the sport’s perceived brutality, the measure’s backers slammed the opponents to the mat, winning by a huge margin, 113-35.

The lengthy and grueling battle notwithstanding, those who make a living in the sport’s premier league, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), were gratified by the legal victory.

“Speaking for myself, I’ve been fighting now for seven years and I’ve been missing out on opportunities to fight in front of my family, friends and fans here in New York,” said Baldwin-native Chris Weidman, the former UFC middleweight title-holder, during a conference call with reporters. “Every year you’re just hopeful… For it to finally happen is a dream come true for me.”

Lindenhurt’s Ryan LaFlare and West Islip’s Chris Wade, both professional UFC fighters, took to Twitter to rejoice over the news:

Long Island’s UFC pros may be chomping at the bit to fight in front of a home crowd but they won’t be stepping into a ring in New York until July or August, at the earliest.

Once Cuomo adds his name to the legislation, a 120-day prohibition period kicks in before a venue can legally host an MMA fight. The New York State Athletic Commission also has to adopt rules to regulate the sport.

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But UFC executives are confident the process will be free of the type of controversy that has made the sport such a hot-button issue in New York.

Lorenzo Feritta, chairman and CEO of UFC, told reporters during the conference call that he expects New York will host at least two events before the end of the year, with New York City, possibly Madison Square Garden or Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, at the top of the list.

The second event could take place in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester or Utica, Feritta said.

“The minute that the vote passed our team started calling various arenas and looking at what dates are available,” he told reporters.

The legislature has been wrestling with legalizing the sport for nearly a decade. The State Senate had passed an MMA bill for seven years in a row but the measure never received the support of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a New York City Democrat, who lost his seat after he was found guilty of corruption.

Weidman said on Tuesday that he was “embarrassed” for the lawmakers who had used harsh words when characterizing UFC fighters.

“Some of things that they were saying were so ridiculous that I was actually happy and embarrassed for them for even bringing it up,” he said.

After grappling with whether to legalize MMA for so long, the legislature has now agreed to send it to Cuomo’s desk, where his signature is a near guarantee.

Mark Ratner, senior vice president of Regulatory Affairs for UFC, summed up the mixed emotions felt by many people with a stake in the sport.

“I look back and it was frustrating,” he said, “but today I’m thrilled.”

Light Snow Falls on Long Island as Calendar Changes to Spring

As the calendar turned to spring Sunday, winter decided to hang around for at least one more day by rudely blasting the Island with an unwelcome chill and sprinkling the region with a couple of inches of wet snow.

In what Long Islanders can only hope was a last hurrah, Mother Nature forced commuters to clean off their cars and perhaps bundle up more than they would’ve liked, given the change in season.

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But when it was all said and done, snow accumulation for western and central Long Island was minor, while the East End was expected to get a few more inches.

At around 9:30 a.m., the National Weather Service’s Upton office canceled its winter weather advisory, noting that the storm was just tapering off.

As for the morning commute, the Long Island Rail Road was running mostly on schedule and roads appeared to hold up well.

If you were slightly annoyed by winter’s last gasp (we hope), well, there’s good news on the horizon. Monday’s forecast calls for clouds to give way to sunny skies, with the temperature rising to 47 degrees. But Monday evening will feel brisk thanks to potential 20 mph wind gusts, forecasters said.

Meteorologists predicted Tuesday will be mostly sunny with a high of 47 degrees, but wind chills early on could make it feel more like 25.

The weather will only improve from there, with the NWS predicting a high of 61 on Wednesday, followed by a high of 53 on Thursday.

For those planning to spend time with the family on Easter Sunday, the early forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with a high near 53.

Ed Walsh Trial: Golf Outings, Purchases & Political Dealings Scrutinized

Ed Walsh Trial

Suffolk County Conservative Party Chairman Ed Walsh’s political dealings and purchases he made for golf outings, ferry rides to Connecticut, and outdoor shopping malls took center stage during the second day of his ongoing federal fraud trial.

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Prosecutors invested significant time Thursday questioning witnesses on records maintained by golf courses, a credit card company, and various retailers to bolster their accusations that Walsh was either hitting the greens, conducting Suffolk County Conservative Party business, gambling at casinos, or shopping while he was supposed to be working at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office in Riverhead. Walsh, who was a lieutenant, has since retired.

A day earlier, prosecutors promised to layout a “paper trail” proving Walsh was absent from work.

Walsh’s political connections also came into play on Day Two. The jury at U.S. District Court in Central Islip also heard testimony from Jerry Wolkoff, a wealthy real estate developer; Anthony Senft, a Suffolk County District Court Judge; and John Ruocco, a businessman who said he met Walsh through Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius.

Walsh was indicted in January 2015 for allegedly defrauding Suffolk of more than $80,000 in no-show work. He was additionally charged with theft of funds and wire fraud last March. Walsh pleaded not guilty and has denied the charges. His attorneys contend that if Walsh was not at his desk, it was because he was conducting business at the behest of his boss, Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco.

Prosecutors filed a lengthy pretrial motion March 8 alleging that several attempts by DeMarco to investigate Walsh were killed by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spotaaccusations Spota’s office has denied.

The trial continued Thursday with testimony from Christina Ofeldt, the bookkeeper at Hampton Hills Golf Course & Country Club, of which Walsh was a “weekday” member who benefited from a police and armed services discount. Walsh was also provided guest passes, which were used on multiple occasions, Ofeldt testified.

The country club had invoices from more than dozen dates between 2010 and 2013 containing purchases for golf rounds and other items that were posted on Walsh’s account, including charges for golf carts, beverages, and a cigar, Ofeldt testified.

The government also produced a guest pass for a person identified as “Rich” and marked with an expiration date. Ofeldt, however, admitted that the club does not strictly enforce expiration dates.

Walsh’s attorney Leonard Lato got Ofeldt to testify that there was no year specified on the date the guest pass was used—Aug. 13—therefore, impossible to know when the pair actually played. She also said there was no way of knowing if “Rich” was the person’s true name and no way of knowing if Walsh left before completing his round.

The jury also heard testimony from Kevin Kline of the Metropolitan Golf Association, who oversees a program called Golf Handicap Information Network, which maintains golfers’ statistics and evaluates scores to produce a handicap. Walsh used the system, Kline testified, and made 23 entries between Aug. 15, 2013 and Oct. 22, 2013 at various courses, including Sebonack Golf Course in Southampton. But on cross examination, Kline admitted he was unsure if the days Walsh golfed were actual work days.

Bar Exam Question of the Day Walsh played Sebonack as a guest at least four times, according to the course’s director of golf, Jason McCarty. McCarty testified that Walsh and Wolkoff, who was a member of the course, played a round at 2:45 p.m. on May 10, 2013 and chose to walk the course. The pair also played a round with Senft on Friday, May 31, 2013, he testified, adding that Wolkoff is considered an “extremely fast golfer.”

The most electric testimony of the day came from the 79-year-old Wolkoff, who admitted to contributing $20,000 to the Suffolk County Conservative Party between 2014 and 2015.

“I got to know Ed Walsh and I thought he was doing a terrific job,” Wolkoff said, testifying that his donations were a result of Walsh’s aptitude and not to curry favor with elected officials who may be able to assist him with zoning issues.

Wolkoff is in the midst of one of the largest redevelopment projects on Long Island, which would transform the abandoned Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center property in the Town of Islip into a mixed-use “town square.”

Wolkoff said he remembered golfing with Walsh at Sebonack but, “I can’t remember all the dates.”

Asked whether they discussed business issues, Wolkoff said “I might of.” Walsh, he testified, once commented that he may have to leave if he got a call from work, but Wolkoff said he didn’t recall Walsh abandoning a round early.

When Wolkoff was asked whether Walsh ever facilitated meetings with elected officials, Wolkoff said “No,” but later admitted that Walsh did help the developer meet Mary Kate Mullen, then a candidate for Islip Town Council, at his office. Walsh was also in attendance, Wolkoff testified.

Wolkoff said he was considering supporting Mullen’s campaign and wanted to meet with her.

The developer testified that he donated $1,000 to the New York State Conservative Party from 2014 to 2016, a sliver compared to the $20,000 he donated to Suffolk’s arm of the party.

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Testimony transitioned into claims from prosecutors that Wolkoff reneged on an agreement to meet with the government prior to the trial. Catherine Mirabile, a prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, then suggested Wolkoff met with Lato, an assertion Wolkoff brushed away by claiming all he said was “Hello.”

When it was the defense’s turn, Wolkoff said he’s been a registered Conservative for more than 50 years but also contributed to Democrats and Republicans.

He also boasted about his pace on the golf course. “I like to move quickly,” he said, adding that Walsh is not nearly as quick, which Walsh blames on bad knees.

“[Walsh’s] life is his work, his family, and his Conservative Party,” Wolkoff said.

Regarding his decision not to meet with prosecutors, he exclaimed: “I have nothing to hide.”

The jury also heard from John Ruocco, who was the president and CEO of Interceptor Ignition, which had dealings with Melius, the Oheka Castle owner who survived a botched assassination attempt two years ago.

Ruocco testified that Walsh attended a shareholder’s meeting on Feb. 21, 2014 at 11 a.m. in Shirley. He noted that Walsh had no business dealings and didn’t speak during the two-hour meeting.

Prosecutors also produced evidence allegedly showing Walsh made reservations to travel to Connecticut by using the Cross Sound Ferry on four occasions between 2011 and 2014. One package also included a bus transfer to Mohegan Sun casino, according to testimony.

The government also claimed Walsh went shopping at three stores—Nike, Reebok and Neiman Marcus—on June 16, 2012, and used his American Express card to pay for a woman’s blouse at one store and a “Yankees trainer” double extra-large shirt at another.

The defense got one witness to testify that there’s no way of knowing that it was Walsh who actually purchased the blouse.

The day ended with testimony from Senft, who was endorsed by the Town of Islip Conservative Party last year when he campaigned for a county judge seat. Senft had originally planned to run for state senate, but dropped out due to a toxic dumping scandal that enveloped the town. At the time, Senft was the town board’s park liaison.

Senft also said he found five dates in his Google calendar in which he attended Conservative Party events with Walsh.

Senft’s testimony continues Monday when the trial resumes. The prosecution plans to produce photos from various political events Walsh and Senft attended.

Ed Walsh Trial: Feds Say Suffolk Conservative Party Chair ‘Is A Thief’

Ed Walsh Trial

Retired Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office investigator Ed Walsh swindled taxpayers by going on golf outings, gambling at poker tables and attending political meetings instead of performing his duties as a lieutenant, prosecutors alleged Wednesday during opening arguments at the Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman’s federal fraud trial.

Wasting little time, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Catherine Mirabile flatly told jurors at federal court in Central Islip: “Ed Walsh is a thief,” who made a habit of skipping work during a three-year period ending in early 2014.

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Walsh’s defense attorneys contend that the party big was acting on his boss’s wishes, arguing that he wouldn’t be able fulfill his obligation as liaison to Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco without leaving the confines of the jail’s administrative building in Riverhead. The defense did not dispute the notion that Walsh hit the greens and attended political meetings during work hours, but said DeMarco was well aware of Walsh’s other activities.

“They knew what he was doing,” Walsh’s lawyer William Wexler told jurors during his opening statements, referring to DeMarco and four other administrators within the sheriff’s office.

“Who did he deceive?” Wexler continued. “They knew he wasn’t sitting at his desk” at all times when he was conducting sheriff’s business on DeMarco’s behalf.

Walsh was indicted in January 2015 for allegedly defrauding Suffolk of more than $80,000 in no-show work. He was additionally charged with theft of funds and wire fraud last March.

The feds have alleged Walsh was on the opposite side of the Long Island Sound, gambling at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, and out on the greens spending time perfecting his golf swing, when he was supposed to be working in Riverhead.

Walsh, who retired this February—working just long enough to secure his taxpayer-funded pension, whether he’s found guilty of the alleged charges against him or not—has denied those claims and pleaded not guilty.

Day One of the trial got off to a sluggish start, with the proceedings delayed for more than an hour because of a tardy juror.

When the proceedings finally got underway, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt instructed the jury to refrain from reading news media accounts of the case, due to Walsh’s high-profile nature as Suffolk Conservative Party boss.

Mirabile said the government would provide evidence that Walsh was paid for a full day’s work on occasions when he was enjoying golf outings and playing cards in Connecticut, including a “paper trail” of phone records, golf and hotel receipts, and fraudulent time sheets.

Wexler sought to poke holes in the government’s argument by portraying Walsh and DeMarco as trusted cohorts. Wexler did not shy away from Walsh’s political status, noting that Walsh was “instrumental” in getting DeMarco elected.

DeMarco, Wexler said, was Walsh’s boss during the day, but their roles switched away from the office.

Phone records will indicate more than 10,000 phone calls were made between Walsh and the Suffolk County jail during his time as DeMarco’s liaison for eight years—demonstrating that Walsh was actively working even if he wasn’t on the jail’s premises, Wexler argued.

Wexler described Walsh as DeMarco’s right-hand man, whom DeMarco himself appointed to several key roles, including department liaison. That role in particular, Wexler argued, often took Walsh outside of the Riverhead facility where he worked, sometimes attending funerals on DeMarco’s behalf, graduation ceremonies for corrections officers, or to the hospital, where he’d check on injured officers under the sheriff’s command. Walsh also oversaw a community education program, Wexler said.

At the end of the trial, Wexler told the jury, “You may be saying, ‘What is this all about?'”

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DeMarco is expected to be a key government witness in Walsh’s trial, which prosecutors estimated could take upwards of three weeks to complete. Several high-profile lawmakers, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), and Suffolk County Democratic Chairman and Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer are also named as potential government witnesses. Federal prosecutors had alleged in a 58-page court filing March 8 that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota had quashed several attempts by DeMarco to investigate Walshaccusations Spota’s office has denied.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and Suffolk County Police Department have been the subject of an ongoing federal probe following the recent downfall of ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, who recently pleaded guilty to attacking a Smithtown man in custody for stealing his duffel bag—full of Burke’s sex toys, pornography, ammo and gun—and demanding witnessing officers lie to cover it up.

Bar Exam Question of the Day The court heard from three witnesses Wednesday, starting with Robert Draffin, who has served as the sheriff’s office’s employees relations director since 2002. He explained that the collective bargaining agreement between the county and corrections officers stipulates that they work a total of 37 1/2 hours each week, and that officers receive a minimum of four hours in overtime pay if they work beyond their normal schedule.

When Walsh’s other attorney, Leonard Lato, inquired as to whether Draffin ever disciplined Walsh as part of his duties from 2008 through 2013, he said he had not. The only time disciplinary actions against Walsh came up, he testified, was in March 2014, seven months before he was indicted.

When probed by prosecutors, Draffin said he’s never been involved in disciplining officers. He also admitted that he’s contributed at least $800 over the years to DeMarco’s campaign, as well as an undisclosed amount to the Suffolk County Conservative Party.

Marlene Madorran, who works in the sheriff’s payroll office, briefly testified about payroll matters, including the amount Walsh earned in total compensation over the years, including overtime.

The government offered as evidence during her testimony an overtime slip from 2010 to 2011, showing that Walsh was paid for attending seminars. She later testified that it’s not uncommon for sheriff’s office officials to attend such events.

Testimony from a Hampton Hills Golf and Country Club bookkeeper will continue Thursday morning.

Ed Walsh Fraud Trial Begins, May Feature A Who’s Who Of Suffolk Political Elite

Ed Walsh Zeldin Schaffer
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) (L) and Suffolk County Democratic Party Chair / Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer may be called as potential witnesses in embattled Suffolk County Conservative Party Chairman Ed Walsh's federal fraud trial in Eastern District Court in Central Islip.

[Photo Caption: U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) (L) and Suffolk County Democratic Party Chair / Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer may be called as potential witnesses in embattled Suffolk County Conservative Party Chairman Ed Walsh’s federal fraud trial in Eastern District Court in Central Islip.]

By Rashed Mian and Christopher Twarowski

Opening statements begin Wednesday in the federal fraud trial against Suffolk County Conservative Party Chairman Ed Walsh, with a judge informing the jury Tuesday that a who’s who of the county’s political power elite, including three Republican lawmakers, would potentially be called as witnesses to testify.

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Walsh’s defense team and prosecutors with the Eastern District of New York spent about five hours selecting jurors Tuesday, agreeing on a 12-person jury evenly divided by sex. During jury selection as part of the interviewing process, Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay asked a pool of about 34 prospective jurors whether they had any connections to a smorgasbord of some of Suffolk County’s most powerful politicians and deal-makers who’d potentially be called to testify, including, among more than a dozen names listed: U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Suffolk County Democratic Party Chair and Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer, New York State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), state Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco.

Prosecutors in a recent 58-page court filing heavily cite allegations by Sheriff DeMarco that several of his attempts to investigate Walsh—who besides Suffolk Conservative Party chair is also an ex-correction lieutenant in the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office—were quashed by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

Spota, in a nearly 850-word response posted on his office’s website, denied those claims.

Magistrate Judge Lindsay had ordered more than 200 prospective jurors to appear for the opening day of the trial in Central Islip Tuesday, forcing that day’s proceedings to be moved to the much larger ceremonial chamber. Walsh’s trial is expected to last approximately three weeks.

Walsh is accused of scheming to defraud taxpayers of $80,000 in no-show work at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office and Suffolk County jail. Prosecutors allege Walsh falsely represented that he was working while he was actually gambling at Foxwood’s Casino in Connecticut, golfing, or conducting Conservative Party business on the taxpayer dime. The party big was also accused of lying to FBI agents when he allegedly claimed he worked flex time for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.

Walsh pleaded not guilty in January 2015 to those charges, and pleaded not guilty to additional theft and wire fraud charges again in March of last year. He enjoyed a salary of nearly $127,000 until he retired this February, ensuring he’ll also enjoy a generous taxpayer-funded pension whether he’s found guilty of the alleged crimes or not.

Suffolk Democratic Party boss and Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer tells the Press he received a subpoena to testify “as to certain dates that I met with Walsh,” adding that he’ll be appearing in court Thursday or Friday.

Edward Walsh
Edward Walsh

Walsh’s case is the latest amid an ongoing federal probe of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and Suffolk County Police Department sparked by the criminal misdeeds of disgraced former Suffolk Chief of Police James Burke, who recently pleaded guilty to beating a Smithtown man for unsuspectingly stealing his duffel bag—containing Burke’s sex toys, pornography, gun and ammo—and demanding those who witnessed the assault to lie to federal investigators to cover it up. That inquiry has reportedly expanded to include Spota’s public corruption bureau chief, Christopher McPartland.

Burke was Spota’s chief investigator for more than a decade. Despite his record of documented improper behavior throughout the years—including an Internal Affairs report concluding, among other “substantiated” allegations, that he “engaged in a personal, sexual relationship” with “a convicted felon known to be actively engaged in criminal conduct including the possession and sale of illegal drugs, prostitution and larceny”—Burke continued to climb the department’s ladder, facilitated by Spota and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who crowned him police chief in 2012.

Sporting a gray blazer and dark pants in court Tuesday, Walsh remained silent.

The Suffolk County Conservative Party has been instrumental throughout the years in getting lawmakers, almost always Republicans, elected to office, because of unusual election rules in New York State that allow politicians to appear on multiple party lines. In his first run for the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office in 2001, Spota’s opponent, incumbent Suffolk DA James Catterson, lost the Conservative Party line, costing him his seat. Due to Walsh’s high-profile position as a backdoor kingmaker, Judge Lindsay instructed jurors to refrain from reading news media accounts relating to Walsh and the trial.

“That means you don’t do independent research, either,” the judge told the packed room.

Magistrate Judge Lindsay oversaw jury selection, but the case will be heard before U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt, who on Monday reportedly limited the scope of government evidence, despite prosecutors’ voluminous March 8 filing implicating Spota as Walsh’s primary source of cover.

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In one such instance detailed within the court papers, federal prosecutors, including U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Robert L. Capers, alleged that Spota killed an investigation sparked by DeMarco after Walsh had been detained in 2012 by the Suffolk County Police Department in a bust of an illegal gambling establishment in Medford. Instead of aiding DeMarco’s probe and possibly prosecuting or disciplining Walsh, the documents claim, Spota let Walsh skate free.

“Spota told DeMarco, in sum and substance, not to do anything and that the DA’s Office would take care of it and get back to DeMarco,” it reads. “DeMarco will testify that after some time passed, Spota informed DeMarco that the defendant’s conduct was not criminal and that it was not illegal to be a player at an illegal gambling establishment.”

“I’m not subpoenaing anything,” Spota allegedly commanded in response to DeMarco’s request for a subpoena for Walsh’s golf records, which he hoped to use to investigate Walsh’s alleged fraud, according to the motion—and a subpoena of Walsh’s cell phone records allegedly documenting a barrage of calls between Walsh and Spota made around that period of time.

The district attorney’s office’s lengthy rebuttal, states: “…it was the Sheriff [DeMarco] and his staff who thwarted the District Attorney’s Office, not the other way around.”

Pedestrian Killed in Central Islip Crash

A 49-year-old Brentwood man was killed crossing the street in Central Islip Sunday night, Suffolk County police said.

Luis Alfredo Rios Arevalo was walking eastbound across Route 111 at Chestnut Street at 9:35 p.m., police said, when he was struck by a 2005 Toyota Highlander driven by a teenager.

Arevalo was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

The 18-year-old female driver was not injured, police said.

Her vehicle was impounded for a safety check and the investigation is continuing, police said.

Detectives ask anyone with information about the crash to call the Third Squad at 631-854-8352.

Wantagh Man, 60, Killed in Crash

A 60-year-old Wantagh man was killed Sunday morning when his car veered into another lane and struck another vehicle in his hometown, Nassau County police said.

The victim, Preston Stockman, was driving a white 1996 Toyota Camry east on Jerusalem Avenue at 8:50 a.m. when his vehicle entered the westbound lane and hit a white Buick. Police have yet to determine what caused the vehicle to enter the opposite lane.

Stockman was transported to Nassau University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The 57-year-old driver of the Buick was hospitalized for minor injuries, police said.

Police removed both vehicles from the scene for brake and safety inspections. Investigators say they believe at this time there is no criminality.

Nassau Holocaust Center Gives Voice To Genocidal Rape Survivors

Sexualized genocide
Women are often victims of sexualized atrocities during genocides. (Photos via Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County)

Consolee Nishimwe knows how important it is to speak out.

Nishimwe was only 14 years old when on April 6, 1994 Rwanda exploded into a state of chaos. That day also marked the beginning of the 100-day Rwandan genocide, which claimed upwards of 800,000 lives.

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Her family did what most would do when hate-filled perpetrators seized upon the instability enveloping the nation: They fled.

Along with her mother and father, both elementary school teachers, three brothers and her sister, they hopped from place to place, desperately hiding from murderers targeting the Tutsi minority. Even neighbors couldn’t be trusted. Each moment was excruciating, and there was almost a feeling of inevitably that they’d be discovered. They resigned themselves to a heartbreaking realization that no matter where they fled to, or what they did, their time together was fleeting.

“We were waiting to be killed,” Nishimwe, who now lives in the Bronx, tells the Press.

Hoping to keep her family alive, Nishimwe’s father decided it best they separate, as to prevent the entire family from being discovered if the Hutus caught up.

They reached her father first. He was killed on April 15, just nine days after genocide broke out. Her three brothers also met the same fate.

The three remaining Nishimwes kept running.

Shortly after half her family were slaughtered, however, Nishimwe and her mother and sister were captured. Nishimwe was brutally raped, yet she survived—a “miracle,” she says.

At the outset of the devastation, Rwanda boasted a population of 7 million people—14 percent of whom were Tutsi. The genocide claimed 800,000 lives. While it’s difficult to ascertain how many women were subjected to torture and rape, the widespread nature of sexual atrocities can be measured to some degree by the number of children born from rape: an estimated 20,000. Not only were many of these women faced with the burden of caring for a child alone, but they bore other scars, physical and psychological, that festered for years. Some women like Nishimwe decided to speak out. Still, some survivors fear reliving their own sexualized atrocities—what many experts deem to be a weapon of war used during genocides that’s not to be overlooked as just a matter of circumstance.

“Rape is used as a weapon of genocide, war, and other types of conflicts in many parts of the world,” Nishimwe wrote in a post on Medium last year. “It often goes unreported during the ensuing chaos, as the more visible occurrences take most of the media spotlight. Apart from their suffering resulting from the destruction, displacement and other physical effects of the conflict, victims of this ‘silent’ atrocity are left to bear their psychological pain and trauma alone.”

Nishimwe and a panel of experts will spread that message this Sunday during a symposium at Nassau Community College titled “Women, Not Victims: Moving Beyond Sexualized Atrocities During Genocide,” presented by Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.

The event will document how rape and other sexual crimes have historically been used to dehumanize vulnerable populations, from the Holocaust—and likely for centuries before that—to the current day civil war in Syria.

Consolee Nishimwe
Consolee Nishimwe

Speakers will discuss the trauma caused by rape during genocides across the globe, not just in Nazi Germany or Rwanda.

“We are presetting an issue that is generally neglected in Holocaust and genocide studies, and it’s only been in the past two years or so that this topic on sexualized violence has started to get the attention of mainstream media,” says Beth Lilach, Senior Director of Education and Community Affairs at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.

Discussions about genocides are often followed by the shocking number of people killed as a result, and rightly so. But advocates say rape is oftentimes misunderstood as an outgrowth of atrocities, and not a weapon used to brutalize thousands of people.

Lilach says one of the conference’s many goals is to “shatter myths” about rape, so that people understand that rape is part and parcel of genocide.

“It’s a weapon that’s not acknowledged,” Lilach tells the Press.

Sexualized weaponry is deployed in a number of ways, Lilach says. Several Nazi concentration camps were outfitted with so-called “brothels”—actually, they were “rape barracks”—where non-Jewish male prisoners were brought to reclaim a sense of “normalcy”—by raping female prisoners. Guards also assaulted enslaved women.

“What is so stunningly, strikingly missing [from history] is the female perspective,” Lilach says.

Besides individual survivors speaking out, international bodies are also battling the scourge of genocidal rape through the courts.

For seven years, Najwa Nabti worked as a prosecutor for the United Nations International Tribunal (ICTY) for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Established in 1993, the ICTY is charged with investigating war crimes that arose out of the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Nabti, who currently serves as director of the Undergraduate Law and Master of Legal Studies Program at the University of Arizona, said the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda were among the first judicial bodies created to seek justice for victims of wars or genocide.

During her keynote address on Sunday, Nabti plans to discuss how the testimony of survivors of sexual violence has shaped international law.

Nabti says evidence provided by survivors has been crucial in understanding the prevalence of sexual crimes. As a result, she tells the Press, “we can legally view sexual violence as persecution, as torture, as genocide, and not just rape—that it really does form part of the broader campaign during armed conflict.”

“The more we can include these cases in our efforts establishing accountability…the more it should really deter these acts, but possibly even more importantly, help us understand how to avoid allowing these situations to happen where its likely to be prevalent,” Nabti explains.

While it’s important not to understate the importance of international tribunals in handing out justice, the legacy of these courts may be reflected in how nationalized courts have used international concepts to prosecute perpetrators.

“You have survivors willing to come forward, even in these domestic cases where it might be even more difficult because they’re so close to the conflict and the perpetrators,” Nabti says. “And it’s difficult to perceive how all of that could have happened on the scale that it’s now…without those kind of groundbreaking steps that these initial survivors were willing to make.”

“We were waiting to be killed.”

Of course, it’s not easy for survivors to express the constant pain—and sometimes shame—as a result of being raped.

Nishimwe didn’t find her voice until she moved to the United States in December 2001.

She lived in Queens for a period, then Elmont, and now resides in the Bronx.

It was only when she came to America that she started writing about her experience in a journal—which she parlayed into a book: Tested to the Limit: A Genocide Survivor’s Story of Pain, Resilience, and Hope.

Once here, Nishimwe began receiving therapy, discovering that talking about the atrocities she faced was cathartic. But her horrific ordeal did not just end when the mass rapes and murders ceased. While Nishimwe found her voice, she also discovered that she was HIV-positive, as a result of the rape.

She now devotes herself to helping other survivors—many of whom have sent her heartwarming letters thanking her for being an inspiration.

“I want to make sure that I become a voice for others,” she says.

“It has not been very easy for me to talk about, of course…it took me a long time to talk about my experience, but I realize that for me, having the courage to talk about it is so important…so I have to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

The “Women, Not Victims: Moving Beyond Sexualized Atrocities During Genocide” conference is Sunday, March 13, at the Multi-purpose Room, College Center Building (CCB), Nassau Community College. It runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free. Those wishing to attend are urged to RSVP.

Miller Place Man Killed in House Fire

A 70-year-old Miller Place man was killed in a house fire Thursday night, Suffolk County police said.

Members of the Miller Place Fire Department responded to the blaze on Parkside Avenue just before midnight and found the 70-year-old man inside the home, police said.

He was transported to John T. Mather memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, where he was pronounced dead, police said. The man’s identity is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Firefighters from Rocky Point, Sound Beach, Mount Sinai and Middle Island assisted in putting out the fire, police said.

After a preliminary investigation, detectives believe the fire is non-criminal, police said.

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