It was nearly a year ago when Suffolk's Conservative Sheriff Vincent DeMarco was getting high-pressure calls from Washington and Albany, including from state GOP chairman Edward Cox, asking him to run for Congress against Rep. Steve Israel.
But one key voice who publicly spoke out against the move was powerful Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh. "Vinnie's my guy, but I'm not sure that this is his time," Walsh said in an interview in February, just before DeMarco pulled the plug on his candidacy.
In the wake of last week's federal charges that Walsh collected $80,000 in pay while gambling and golfing, his attorney William Wexler blamed that difference as the origin of the bad blood between the men. "Two and a half weeks after they had a political dispute, the sheriff is at the FBI saying he's shocked my client isn't working when he filed time slips," Wexler said.
DeMarco did not return calls for comment. But one source close to him said, "They are convinced that's what started the snowball running down the hill, but it just doesn't make any sense."
Walsh, at the time a correction lieutenant who worked for the sheriff, had balked at DeMarco's congressional bid in large part because he wanted to concentrate on helping another congressional hopeful, Lee Zeldin, win his race against longtime Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop.
Walsh also had used his clout to make Conservative Islip Town Board member Anthony Senft the GOP candidate to succeed Zeldin, though he came in next to last in a party poll. Had Senft won, he would have been the lone Conservative in the State Senate. He later dropped out because of fallout from the town dumping scandal at Roberto Clemente Park.
For years Walsh and DeMarco had been close allies. However, that created an uneasy relationship between the party boss and the sheriff, who was Walsh's boss in the department.
Michael O'Donohoe, a former Conservative county lawmaker and now commissioner of jurors, said Walsh "used to hold court in the jail -- when he was there -- and let them know he was the guy who was calling the shots." Still others cite Walsh's presence during working hours at a business meeting held by Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius as the breaking point.
As the charges have surfaced, defense explanations for how Walsh spent his time also have expanded. Early on, Walsh maintained that rules allowed him to make up time he took off from the job later. Now the defense also says Walsh was a liaison with the judiciary and community and was not expected to be at the jail, a claim that DeMarco disputes.
Wexler said Walsh since 2008 has been DeMarco's liaison and the county budget shows that his client is listed as part of the sheriff's executive staff, reporting directly to him.
"When Eddie would go and solve a union issue, where did the sheriff think he was doing it? In his office? If he was not supposed to leave his office, why did he have a county car?" Wexler asked.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he could not assess the political impact of Walsh's woes. "People vote on issues that mean something to them," he said, but he was unsure whether voters would connect charges against a party leader to candidates on the Conservative line.
O'Donohoe said state Conservative chairman Michael Long "should step in, clean the place up and give us some credibility."
Long, however, would not say that Walsh, who heads the minor party's largest county committee in the state, should step down or temporarily step aside. "What we have to do is let the justice system work itself out and see where it takes us," he said. "He's innocent until proven guilty. It's as simple as that."