A federal judge set a trial date Friday for Edward Walsh, the Suffolk County Conservative Party leader and lieutenant in the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department.

Walsh was indicted in March on charges of theft of government funds and wire fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

An FBI investigation found that Walsh had collected more than $80,000 from the sheriff's department, claiming he was working in the county jail while he was actually playing golf, gambling or engaged in Conservative Party activities, according to federal prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt set March 14 for jury selection in the case in federal District Court in Central Islip, and the next day, March 15, for the opening of the trial.

Walsh, of East Islip, declined to comment after the hearing, as did Eastern District federal prosecutors Catherine Mirabile and Raymond Tierney.

One of Walsh's attorneys, William Wexler of North Babylon, said of the trial: "He is looking forward" to being vindicated.

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Of his client's defense, Wexler said Walsh's hours and work location were flexible. "It's not like he was a clerk at King Kullen," Wexler said.

Wexler and Walsh's other defense attorney, Leonard Lato of Hauppauge, have maintained that their client was working as a community liaison for the sheriff's department and, any time he was not in the office, he was acting in that capacity or on time he could make up under department rules.

Several sources said the setting of the date, whatever the outcome of any trial, was fiscally fortunate for Walsh, whose pension for his $121,000-a-year county job will not vest until February. At that time he would have been on the job for 25 years. If Walsh were convicted before the vesting, he could have lost his pension, the sources said. It could not be immediately determined what Walsh's pension would be.

In setting a trial date, Spatt consulted with his courtroom clerk, and found he could not schedule a trial date before March because of other matters he had before him.

Wexler declined to comment on his client's pension situation.