Editorial: Nothing routine about Walsh investigation

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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There is a federal investigation underway of a Suffolk County corrections officer who allegedly submitted false time sheets, claiming he was on the job at the jail when he was actually off on his side job.

On the face of it, an FBI investigation of a routine case like this is preposterous, even if the correction department gets federal grants and reimbursements. But stitch together a few more facts, and you'll see why Long Island's legal and political communities are buzzing.

Correction Officer Edward Walsh, who is also the chairman of Suffolk County's Conservative Party, was brought up on departmental charges by his boss, Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. The sheriff is a registered Conservative, who has been elected twice with Walsh's backing.

After DeMarco completed his internal investigation, he decided not to turn the case over to District Attorney Thomas Spota for possible prosecution. Instead, DeMarco took his evidence to Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. This page said weeks ago that Spota should recuse himself from the Walsh case and ask for a special prosecutor to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest because of his personal and political ties to Walsh.

With no inclination on Spota's part to take such action, DeMarco went to the feds. He was right to do so. Here's why.

DeMarco says he first learned Walsh was conducting politics while on the job after reading a Feb. 28 Newsday story published days after the shooting of political power broker Gary Melius outside Oheka Castle, the high-scale catering venue he owns in Huntington.

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In looking at Melius's dealings, Newsday detailed a legal fight over control of a company called Interceptor Ignition Interlocks. Melius claimed he was promised a major stake in the firm that made Breathalyzer-type ignition devices if he got the Nassau and Suffolk legislatures to require the technology the company provided. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan ruled in favor of Melius in that nasty dispute. On Feb. 21, Walsh attended the first stockholder meeting after the ruling "to provide moral support" to Melius, Newsday reported.

But DeMarco looked at Walsh's records and saw a time sheet that recorded him as working in Riverhead that day. The Newsday story also detailed how Whelan's ruling came after Melius had sought to get Frank McKay, the chairman of the state Independence Party and a close friend of Whelan, onto the board of Interlock. After Newsday looked at the Interlock court files, Spota took the highly unusual step of sealing the files as part of his investigation of the shooting.

So it's not surprising that investigators might want to go to a grand jury with a case against a public employee who cheated on his time sheets. It could lead to a look at the dealings of a political party boss with enormous influence on who gets nominated and who wins elections. These deals by minor parties are often transactional, delivering votes that usually bring patronage in return. If the usual quid pro quo got a little too explicit, however, the line into illegality may have been crossed. And Walsh may just know how these favors were doled out.

For aggressive federal prosecutors, Long Island could be what they like to call "a target-rich environment."

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