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.
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.
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?'”
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 Walsh—accusations 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.
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.