Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh, a lieutenant in the county corrections department, is among the targets of an investigation into whether sheriff's office employees collected wages for hours they did not work, Newsday has learned.
The investigation by the sheriff's internal affairs bureau resulted in the arrest Friday of former correction officer Steven Compitello and the transfer of his supervisor. At least three other officers, including Walsh, are facing scrutiny for hours they claimed to have worked and for how their time sheets were approved, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Sheriff Vincent DeMarco declined to identify the employees still under investigation.
However, DeMarco confirmed that he initiated the inquiry after Newsday reported in February that Walsh attended a Feb. 21 meeting with Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius. The newspaper subsequently filed a Freedom of Information request with the sheriff's office for Walsh's 2014 schedule and time sheet to determine whether Walsh was supposed to be at work during the 11 a.m. meeting.
According to the records obtained by Newsday, Walsh was scheduled to work that day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and his time sheet reflects that he had been at work during those hours.
A source familiar with the sheriff's department probe said investigators are reviewing several similar allegations regarding Walsh. The investigators have already determined that Walsh attended a political event in February at Captain Bill's, a Bay Shore restaurant, but his time sheet shows he was at work during the event.
Walsh denied any suggestion that his time sheets showed that he was working when he was not. "I was never on the clock anywhere but where I was supposed be," Walsh said.
The investigation of Walsh's work hours is significant not only because he is a midlevel sheriff's office employee, but also because of his role as the head of Suffolk's Conservative Party. Politicians running for office court his party's endorsement, and Walsh negotiates with leaders of the county's Democrat and Republican parties over the selection of judges, giving him considerable influence over that process.
Also notable is that although DeMarco is Walsh's superior in the sheriff's office, Walsh is essentially the political boss of DeMarco, a fellow member of the Conservative Party.
Walsh has twice approved cross-endorsement deals that allowed DeMarco to run unopposed in 2009 and 2013.
Walsh also fought a two-year battle with the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, which sought to unseat DeMarco in 2008 after he implemented the plan of then-County Executive Steve Levy to have deputies patrol highways instead of police officers.
Walsh, who has worked at the sheriff's office for 23 years, earned $282,324, including $51,479 in overtime, in 2013, according to county payroll records. He said he currently works as a liaison between the courts and Suffolk's jails and investigates complaints, gangs and other security issues in the jails.
In addition to his salary from the sheriff's office, campaign disclosure forms show Walsh received at least $62,000 in 2013 as chairman of Suffolk's Conservative Party, which he has led for the past eight years.
While not commenting on Walsh directly, DeMarco said he felt hurt that employees he and the taxpayers placed their trust in would betray that trust for financial gain.
"It breaks my heart that there is any stain on the sheriff's office," said DeMarco, who has worked at the agency for almost 20 years, including the past eight as sheriff. "But if there are people doing wrong I want to obviously catch them, stop it and if they deserve to be punished . . . that's what's going to happen."
Meeting with Melius
The Feb. 21 meeting Walsh said he attended with Melius was held at the Shirley headquarters of Interceptor Ignition Interlocks, which makes ignition-locking devices intended to curb drunken driving.
Melius had recently won control of the firm from founder John Ruocco in a contentious civil court proceeding that has since been sealed by a judge at the request of Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota.
The reason Spota wanted the case sealed was also ordered sealed.
Three days after Walsh and Melius attended the meeting, a masked assailant shot Melius in the head outside of Oheka Castle. Melius survived the attack and the shooter is still at large.
In the days after the attempt on Melius' life, Walsh told Newsday that he attended the Interceptor meeting to offer Melius "moral support."
"I expected some drama, but it didn't really give it," Walsh said at the time. "It was pretty blah, pretty uneventful."
Last week, after a reporter informed Walsh that his time sheet showed he was at work during the meeting, Walsh said he spent 15 minutes at the meeting during his lunch break. Walsh's allotted lunch break is 30 minutes long, according to the source familiar with the investigation.
According to shareholders in attendance, the meeting lasted about 45 minutes.
Walsh said he could not remember where he was before the meeting or whether he returned to work at one of the sheriff's facilities in Yaphank or Riverhead after he left the meeting.
"I don't recall which way I was going -- Yaphank, Riverhead, whatever, lunch. I don't know where I was going," Walsh said.
Walsh, according to the source familiar with the sheriff's investigation, also attended the Islip Town Republican Committee fundraiser at Captain Bill's, which began at 6 p.m. on Feb. 27. Walsh was scheduled to work from 2 to 10 p.m. that day, and his time sheet shows that he worked the entire shift.
Walsh said he could not confirm whether he was at Captain Bill's because he attends at least 100 political events each year.
"I've been to a few events at Captain Bill's this year. Like I said, I go to lots of events," Walsh said. "The 27th? I don't know one day from the next."
On March 20, a Thursday, Walsh was scheduled to work at the sheriff's office from 2 until 10 p.m. Newsday witnessed Walsh entering a closed, private business in East Islip at 8:30 that night and photographed him leaving shortly after midnight.
Walsh said he was playing cards, something he regularly does on Thursday nights.
"Do I play poker with my friends on Thursday nights? Yeah, we've been doing that for a while," Walsh said.
Walsh's time sheet shows on that Thursday, he took 31/2 hours off for the card game. However, Walsh's records show that was the only time between January and March 2014 that he took time off on a Thursday night, including three other nights he was scheduled to work until 10 p.m.
DeMarco declined to say whether Walsh's Thursday night card games are currently under review, but he said a credible allegation will be "fully investigated, just as it was in the other case with Compitello."
"If he [Walsh] says he's at the game, and he is supposed to be at work, it is something we would have to look into," DeMarco said.
Along with Walsh, Richard Clark, a fellow correction officer, was photographed by Newsday outside the Thursday night poker game. Clark was scheduled to work that night and did not use vacation time to cover the absence, according to records obtained by Newsday.
County payroll records show Clark earned $169,053 in 2013, including $37,850 in overtime. He has worked for the sheriff's office for 13 years, according to Civil Service records.
Clark declined to comment for this story and said questions should be directed to the sheriff's office administration.
Walsh said he is able to attend events that would otherwise appear to conflict with a daily work schedule because of his rotating shift of two weeks of day shifts and one week of night shifts. He said he also has several vacation days he has to take each year or lose.
Walsh added there could be confusion with his time sheets because the warden will sometimes order him to work a day shift, even when he's scheduled to work at night, so he can give judges a tour of a jail facility.
Warden Charles Ewald did not return calls seeking comment.
'They're stealing tax dollars'
DeMarco said it is a priority for him to get back any money stolen from the county, and that his investigation is examining how employees were able to claim hours they did not work for so long.
"We are still looking internally at how something like this could slip through the cracks," DeMarco said. "We are still looking to see how something like this could actually happen."
DeMarco said his staff created a new, computerized payroll system that will soon completely replace the current system, which relies on paper records. The new system is not only aiding the current investigation, DeMarco said, but may help prevent similar abuses in the future.
DeMarco said Compitello, who was arrested Friday, is accused of working as a security guard for the Connetquot School District during hours he claimed to be working for the county.
Compitello, 53, of Hill Drive in Bohemia, pleaded not guilty Saturday in First District Court in Central Islip to one count of third-degree grand larceny, a felony. He was released on $5,000 cash bail.
DeMarco said Compitello resigned Thursday morning when he was told the sheriff's office would move to fire him.
According to court records, Compitello collected wages for hours he did not work from Sept. 15, 2011, to April 3 that totaled more than $3,000, which is the minimum for the third-degree grand larceny charge. He was hired for the Connetquot job Sept. 14, 2011, according to Civil Service records.
Compitello was paid $84,936 in overtime in 2013, the 16th-highest amount of any county employee. He earned a total of $225,974 that year.
Daniel Papele, the commanding officer of the Yaphank jail facility where Compitello worked, has also been transferred from his post, DeMarco said.
Compitello and Papele could not be reached for comment.
Compitello's attorney, Thomas Spreer of Babylon, said in court Saturday that his client "is a very good man" who has "never been in any trouble." He said he will investigate the allegations against Compitello and address them.
DeMarco said he was troubled by Compitello's actions. He said he had to put a stop to the egregious behavior.
"It's extremely disappointing to me and his co-workers and it's extremely disappointing to the taxpayers," DeMarco said. "We will continue to hold people's feet to the fire here. We're not going to let the bad apples spoil the whole bunch."
Legis. Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley), the chair of Suffolk County's Public Safety Committee, praised DeMarco for taking action and said law enforcement should be held to higher standards on issues like falsifying time cards. "When people in the county are stealing time, they're stealing tax dollars," Browning said. "That money comes from our taxpayers."