Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
It seemed clear during closing arguments that a jury of Suffolk Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh’s peers just weren’t buying what defense attorney Leonard Lato was trying to sell last week.
At several points during his remarks, Lato lashed out at Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, a key prosecution witness in Walsh’s trial on wire fraud and theft of government services.
Lato called DeMarco a “vindictive and dishonest man,” “a vengeful narcissist,” and, colorfully, “a piece of cosmic dust, unworthy of belief.” As for Walsh, Lato suggested, the now-retired Suffolk County Jail lieutenant could have been playing golf on a lunch hour, or working a last-minute changed shift rather than, as federal prosecutors alleged, illegally collecting pay while involved in outside activities rather than tending to his duties at the jail.
Lato worked hard, trotting out references to Ronald Reagan, George Washington, Copernicus, Benjamin Franklin and King George III. And several jurors, in turn, appeared to respond — one with tightly crossed arms, others with stone faces and all with pens rarely lifted to notebooks to record the lawyer’s points.
The panel, instead, ended up taking a cue from prosecutor Catherine Mirabile, who told jurors, “The defendant is a thief. He is a thief.” She said that Walsh, because he had political power, believed that he could do what he wished. And that, because of his connections, his actions would go unchecked, a theme prosecutors Mirabile and Raymond Tierney hit hard during the 10-week trial.
“It is up to you,” Mirabile told jurors, “to say this will not stand.” And with that, followed later by Judge Arthur Spatt’s instructions, the panel set off to deliberate in late afternoon, returning just an hour later to tell a crowded courtroom that Walsh was found guilty on both counts.
Former Suffolk police chief of department James Burke’s decision to plead guilty to federal charges made Walsh the first to be tried as a result of the U.S. Justice Department’s Eastern District investigation into corruption on Long Island. In a courthouse hallway after the verdict, U.S. Attorney Robert Capers was asked whether there was, as he once promised, more to come.
His first response was a smile and a shrug, followed later with this: “We will continue.” As federal prosecutors should.
Because situations like Walsh’s — who, prosecutors said, at least showed up frequently for portions of the day at the jail — are an epidemic on Long Island. They’re called “no-show” jobs, which says it all. But those inflated pay and overtime sheets get signed; so do paychecks — and pensions, too.
And consider this: If Walsh could sign sheets saying he was working at the jail, rather than, as prosecutors showed, gambling in Connecticut, traveling in Pennsylvania or attending political functions, why did no one notice? And if the jail kept running without him, why was his taxpayer-funded position necessary?
And why is it that the jail’s labor contract, which Lato implied that Walsh may not have read, is the only governing document on work hours? Is there a jail handbook? A policy? Something other than potential contract violations on which to discipline offenders? Walsh’s personnel file, the defense noted, is clean.
The trial featured another first: The jail’s having to check with Suffolk’s lawyers to clear correction officers, who routinely testify for prosecutors, to testify for the defense. Meanwhile, why did it take the feds — who made their charge based on funds in Walsh’s paycheck having been transmitted across state lines — to root this out? Perhaps results of future investigations will clarify.
But jurors in the Walsh case seem to be speaking with one voice.
When it comes to government corruption, to quote Mirabile, “This will not stand.”