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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

From Nassau deputy county executive to federal convict, Rob Walker's fall from power

Rob Walker leaves federal court in Central Islip

Rob Walker leaves federal court in Central Islip on Wednesday after pleading guilty to obstruction of a federal investigation into the granting of county contracts. Credit: James Carbone

Rob Walker once was the second most powerful official in Nassau, one of the nation's premier counties.

That came to an abrupt and humiliating end at the Alfonse M. D'Amato courthouse in Central Islip last week, with Walker admitting guilt to obstructing a federal grand jury investigation into a cash payment he received from a contractor while serving as Nassau's chief deputy county executive.

"In August 2017," Walker read from a document, "I knowingly and regretfully met with an informant working with the government."

"I asked him not to disclose the $5,000 that he gave me," Walker continued. " … I did not know that he was undercover."

Walker went on to say that he met with the informant twice in parks in Hicksville.

During the plea, Walker spoke from the same defense table where his boss, former County Executive Edward Mangano, sat during both a trial and later retrial, which ended in Mangano's conviction on corruption-related charges.

Listening from the prosecution table was Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell.

And behind him in the spectator section, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Catherine M. Mirabile and Lara Treinis Gatz, who handled the Mangano case, listened in as well.

So too did Richard Donoghue, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

At one point, after U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack had accepted Walker's plea, McConnell rose and asked to read into the record evidence the government would have presented had Walker decided to go to trial.

The government had audio and video recordings, he said.

Text messages and emails.

Financial and travel records.

And witnesses — one of whom was prepared to tell a jury that Walker, on several occasions, had attempted to persuade him to conceal a $5,000 payment by falsely explaining the cash as a loan repayment.

In answering Azrack's questions about whether he understood the charge, the plea, the narrow conditions under which he could appeal, and whether his lawyer, Brian Griffin, adequately had explained what was happening to him, Walker spoke softly, but with resolve.

"Yes, your honor."

"Yes I do, your honor."

"Absolutely not, your honor."

"Yes, I do."

"Very much so, your honor."

Here was a former state assemblyman turned political strategist — who had helped Mangano become county executive when few others believed Mangano could — acknowledging taking money from a county contractor while serving as Mangano's second in command.

It wasn't Walker's first time in a federal courtroom.

He testified during the 2015 trial of former State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Walker stated for the record — confirming for the first time — that federal prosecutors were examining his role in Nassau contracts that went to political campaign contributors.

During his tenure, Walker negotiated deals on a series of contracts that later would come under scrutiny.

He was not called to testify during the 2018 retrial of Skelos, who, along with his son, Adam, was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and extortion charges.

Walker was not called to testify in the Mangano trials either.

But other witnesses did tell jurors about a visit Walker made to Nassau's purchasing department to ask about a contract to provide bread and rolls to the county jail. The job had been slated for one vendor, but ended up being awarded to a bakery owned by Mangano's former friend, Harendra Singh.

Last week, Azrack — as is usual for such plea proceedings — asked Walker whether he had taken any medication or alcohol recently.

Wine, he answered.

"I probably had a few glasses," Walker said.

When, the judge asked.

"Last night," he said.

"Is your mind clear today?" she went on.

"Yes, your honor," Walker said.

And Walker made his plea.

He then heard disagreements over potential prison terms, with the government recommending 12 to 18 months and the defense suggesting between 10 and 16 months.

Walker heard that a sentencing date before Azrack — who also heard the Mangano case — wouldn't be set until the probation department could make an assessment of Walker and weigh in.

A few minutes later, it was over.

Walker left the courtroom and about an hour later, with Griffin, was surrounded by cameras as he walked to a waiting SUV.

Walker looked neither left nor right.

And he said nothing before sliding into the passenger side of the vehicle, which then, slowly and carefully, made its way out of the parking lot.

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