Former Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, recently convicted on federal corruption charges, has failed to qualify for an immediate state pension in a ruling that could cost the former corrections lieutenant thousands of dollars in lost benefits.
“His retirement application has been rejected for insufficient service,” said Matthew Sweeney, a spokesman for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
The comptroller’s office said Walsh has only 24.71 years of service. That is about three months short of what he needed to collect a 50 percent pension under special state legislation specifically for Suffolk corrections officers.
William Wexler, Walsh’s attorney said he “strongly disagrees” with the ruling, and will contest it in a hearing.
“I believe it is a vested right,” Wexler said. “And a vested right cannot be unilaterally taken away.”
The comptroller’s ruling, if upheld, means that Walsh, 50, will have to wait at least until he is 55 to collect a reduced pension with penalties, or until age 62 to collect his full pension.
State officials last night could not estimate the fiscal impact on Walsh.
Former Suffolk chief deputy county Executive Paul Sabatino estimated that Walsh’s financial loss will be substantial, particularly if he waits to collect his full pension.
“It’s going to be a million dollar bite,” said Sabatino, who also was counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature for 20 years.
Records show Walsh made $120,613 last year.
Walsh was convicted in U.S. District Court in March of wire fraud and theft of government funds for illegally collecting more than $200,000 in pay and overtime for time spent in activities outside the Suffolk jail in Riverhead when he was supposed to be tending to his duties. Prosecutors said Walsh was paid for more than 1,500 hours of work and another 1,000 hours of overtime at times when he was playing golf, gambling or politicking.
Walsh applied for retirement in February just before his trial in U.S. District Court, saying he had worked for 25 years and two weeks.
State legislation passed specifically for Suffolk corrections officers permits them to collect a pension at half pay regardless of their age, if they have completed 25 years of service.
State officials began a review of Walsh’s pension qualification after Newsday raised the issue with DiNapoli’s office last month.
DiNapoli’s office of investigation reached out to federal prosecutor on behalf of the retirement system following Walsh’s conviction in March, Sweeney said.
“Federal Authorities provided the retirement system with documentation indicating Walsh’s fraudulent service,” he said.