It took just eight minutes to get from start to finish at former Nassau Deputy County Executive Rob Walker’s arraignment in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on Thursday.
“You understand why we are here?” U.S. Magistrate Judge Anne Y. Shields asked Walker, one of many formerly powerful Long Island officials to find themselves seated beside a defense lawyer, peering up at a federal judge.
“Yes, I do,” he responded.
Walker, as have many a similarly situated defendant, waived full reading of a two-page indictment, which included charges handed up by a grand jury two days earlier.
Walker pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice and making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
His next court date is May 16 at 11 a.m. His case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack. She also is slated to handle next month’s trial of Walker’s former boss, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto and Mangano’s wife, Linda, on corruption-related charges.
All three have pleaded not guilty.
During a news conference adjacent to the courthouse parking lot following Walker’s arraignment Thursday, his attorney, Brian Griffin, said Walker had done nothing wrong in accepting an invitation to a football game and $5,000 in cash from a county contractor in 2014.
“The government loves to make everybody a contractor,” Griffin said. “The guy was a longtime friend.”
And that could become key. Previewing Walker’s defense, Griffin went on talk about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that, simply put, said a public official accepting gifts from a friend was not criminal. The defense also has been put forth by attorneys for Mangano and Venditto.
Mangano and Venditto are accused of illegally helping restaurateur Harendra Singh, an Oyster Bay Town vendor, get $20 million in indirect loan guarantees and government contracts in exchange for kickbacks and a $450,000 no-show job for Linda Mangano. Edward Mangano has said — repeatedly — that he and Singh have been friends for years.
Walker is the latest in a string of Nassau officials to be indicted by federal authorities.
Could there be more to come?
Court documents and a news release from U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue’s office made clear that the federal investigations are not over.
In the indictment, for one, Walker is alleged to have obstructed a federal grand jury investigation “together with others.”
According to a bail letter submitted by prosecutors to the judge, meanwhile, Walker’s indictment resulted “from an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service” into whether public officials in Nassau “including Walker, accepted payments from contractors . . . and whether the individuals involved have obstructed the investigation and given false statements to federal law enforcement officials.”
Then there’s a quote in the news release from William Sweeney Jr., the FBI’s assistant director-in-charge of the New York field office, that stands as a warning — and a promise.
“Walker and others who engage in similar schemes are reminded today,” he said, “that there’s no way to undo what’s already been done.”