Edward Walsh probe turned over to FBI, Suffolk Sheriff DeMarco says

Edward Walsh shakes hands with State Sen. Lee Edward Walsh shakes hands with State Sen. Lee Zeldin at his campaign headquarters in East Moriches, June 24, 2014. Photo Credit: John Roca

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Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco confirmed Monday that an investigation into Edward Walsh, a correction lieutenant and Suffolk Conservative Party chairman, has been turned over to the FBI.

DeMarco said he gave materials that were used to bring termination charges against Walsh to the FBI last week. The sheriff has declined to specify the reason for the charges, but Newsday has reported that Walsh, a powerful figure in Suffolk politics for the past eight years, had been under investigation since February, accused of charging the county for hours that he didn't work.

Sheriff investigators informed District Attorney Thomas Spota's investigators of the move last Thursday at a 9 a.m. meeting. "We told them the FBI has an investigation. If they had any questions, give them a call," DeMarco said.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Monday that Spota should appoint a special prosecutor to decide whether to press criminal charges against Walsh.

"I think a special prosecutor makes sense here," Bellone said in an interview. ". . . It's important the public is assured that someone accused of stealing taxpayer money, that politics will never get in the way."

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Spota's office did not return requests for comment.

Spota beat incumbent District Attorney James Catterson in 2001, in part, by taking away his Conservative Party support. Since then, Spota has been re-elected three times with backing from the Conservative Party.

Walsh's attorney, Frank Tinari, did not respond to requests for comment. Walsh's labor attorney, Barry Peek, said he could not comment.

Walsh, who was paid $163,044 in base pay and $51,479 in overtime last year, is contesting his termination and has chosen to have a hearing officer selected by the county consider his case. Civil service rules allow Walsh to collect pay while the case is being decided.

Since the investigation into wage theft became public, DeMarco has said he planned to turn the results of the investigation over to Spota's office for possible criminal prosecution.

When Walsh was eligible to return to work on July 25, Spota spokesman Robert Clifford said DeMarco's office had canceled three meetings that had been scheduled in the two weeks prior. At the meeting, the sheriff's office was to provide information on the Walsh investigation to prosecutors.

"We have not received any departmental charges, or information, regarding a case or a sheriff's investigation," Clifford wrote in an email to a Newsday reporter.

At the time, DeMarco said his office had not canceled three meetings. He said his staff was not able to make one suggested date and had proposed another.

DeMarco said his office informed the county executive's office on Friday that the FBI had the investigation.

Legis. Kate Browning, chair of the county legislature's Public Safety Committee, said she believes Spota should recuse himself from any involvement because of his long-standing ties to Walsh.

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"Because of politics and people running on the [Conservative] line, with his endorsement, I just feel it's a conflict of interest," Browning (WF-Shirley) said.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he believed that Spota did have the ability to weigh the case. "Tom Spota has shown himself to be a fair and impartial prosecutor," Gregory said.

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