On Long Island, it's about the culture - of corruption
"I have had some exposure to the culture of government and politics in Nassau County during the years that you were in government," U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack said to Rob Walker, who once held the second most powerful position in one of the wealthiest suburban counties in the nation.
" … I believe it truly was a culture of corruption," the judge went on. "It's unfortunate you succumbed to this culture, but that's what happened."
Walker's face appeared to redden, slightly, as he stood beside his attorney, Brian Griffin, at the defendants' tables Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
Other disgraced Long Island officials have been at those same tables.
Suffolk's former district attorney, Thomas Spota, for one.
He, at 80 years old, reported to a federal prison on Friday.
So did the former head of Spota's anti-corruption bureau, Christopher McPartland, who also was tried and convicted in Azrack's court.
Edward Mangano, Nassau's former county executive and Walker's former boss, sat there, too.
As did Mangano's wife, Linda.
The couple was tried, and, after a retrial, convicted and are awaiting sentencing.
Azrack, meanwhile, has yet to rule on a defense request for a third trial.
In short, the judge has seen, and heard, plentiful testimony related to political and governmental corruption in Nassau County, and in Suffolk.
"This was business as usual in the corrupt culture of Nassau County government and politics," Azrack told Walker.
"Your actions were motivated by hubris, greed and values that are, quite frankly, the antithesis and opposite of what we expect of those in public office," Azrack said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell, hammered at Walker as well, saying the former state Assembly member had "crossed a line between politics and criminality, a line that frankly on Long Island is often blurry."
McConnell continued: "Here we have the second most powerful official in Nassau County not helping people, he's helping himself. … What we see is someone who repeatedly abuses his position, and when you are talking about corruption, the absence of records, the unwillingness of witnesses to cooperate, the cryptic cellphone messages and phone calls, the clandestine meetings in parking lots and in parks … This was a person who had the audacity to behave in this way, frankly, throughout his tenure in Nassau County government."
Griffin asked for leniency, saying that Walker, who pleaded guilty four years ago as part of an agreement with the government, "by his own hand" already was being punished.
"Losing your job, becoming a felon, being in the newspaper … the utter destruction of a reputation in a life that he built," Griffin said. " … Four years of that is an extremely heavy punishment."
On Friday, Azrack gave Walker an 18-month sentence after an attempted cover-up of a $5,000 cash payment he took from a county contractor.
Friends and members of Walker's family, including his mom, Rose Marie Walker, a former Oyster Bay Town Council member who, come January, is slated to begin her seventh term as a Nassau County legislator, filled the spectator rows behind the defendant's table.
"I was always taught by my parents to do the right thing, and I didn't," Walker said, when his turn came to speak.
He apologized to Azrack, to his family, and to his friends.
Also, he said: "I apologize to the citizens of Nassau County."
Still, as McConnell pointed out, Walker's sentencing was not supposed to be about Walker alone.
It also was supposed to act, in McConnell's words, as a "deterrent for people in this district, where public corruption remains rampant."
Azrack told Walker: "Obstruction of justice by a high-ranking county official and former member of the state Assembly does not call for a slap on the wrist."
Especially, she said, for someone "who had every opportunity to be an admired public servant who could make the lives of his … [constituents] better."
His sentence, she went on, "must promote respect for the law and must deter others from following in your footsteps."
A point which may — and should — be of interest to the legion of elected officials scattered across Long Island who will take an oath of office in January.
At one point on Tuesday, Azrack mentioned Walker's supportive friends and family, many of whom wrote letters the judge said she found moving.
"I'm sure they will blame me for your sentence," she said.
"But they really have only you to blame," she told Walker.