A federal prosecutor Wednesday called Suffolk Conservative Party leader Edward Walsh, “a thief ” who stole by golfing, gambling and engaging in party politics while he was supposed to be working as a lieutenant at the county jail.
But Walsh’s attorney told jurors in federal court in Central Islip that the government’s case against his client does not take into consideration that Walsh served as a liaison for Sheriff Vincent DeMarco to politicians and the community — even visiting corrections officers who were injured on the job. It was understood, William Wexler said, that Walsh could take time off when he was technically scheduled to work.
Jurors heard the two contrasting versions of the case before testimony began briefly. Walsh, 50, who retired from the jail last month, is charged with theft of funds and wire fraud for falsely billing for time and overtime he did not work between January of 2011 and April of 2014.
“Edward Walsh is a thief — a thief who systematically stole over $200,000 from Suffolk County taxpayers,” Eastern District federal prosecutor Catherine Mirabile told jurors.
In one example, Mirabile said that on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, Walsh spent the early part of the day “hanging around” his home. Then by 4:30 in the afternoon, Mirabile said, Walsh drove to Orient Point, took the ferry to Connecticut, and by 9:45 p.m. “he was seated at a poker table at Foxwoods Casino gambling, relaxing, enjoying his night out.”
“Seems like a nice way to spend a day off, right?” Mirabile said. “But for defendant Edward Walsh this wasn’t a day off, it was a regular day at the office,” said Mirabile, who is prosecuting the case along with Raymond Tierney.
Mirabile said Walsh billed for his time that day for four hours overtime, at time and a half, plus an additional hour for travel time. The prosecutor did not say how much Walsh collected for the day.
But Wexler, of North Babylon, who is defending Walsh, along with attorney Leonard Lato, of Hauppauge, countered that Walsh could make up for time he did not work.
“He was supposed to be chained to his desk for 7 /12 hours?” Wexler told jurors. “I will save you the trouble. I will say he went golfing on a nice day.”
But he added: “We will call witnesses that...[will say] he worked tirelessly for the sheriff’s office...He worked days, night, weekends, vacations, days off.”
Walsh retired just as he became eligible to collect a pension.
The case is in federal court because in the last several years, the government has provided the sheriff’s department with more than $2 million in funds, prosecutors say.
After both sides presented their opening statements, testimony began with witnesses discussing Walsh’s time records.
There has been much speculation that the trial might lead to revelations about the underside of Suffolk politics. The more than sixty potential witnesses on the lists submitted by both prosecution and defense include a number of Long Island politicians and officials.
Walsh’s supporters have said that DeMarco, who is also in the Suffolk Conservative Party, went to the FBI with allegations about Walsh’s alleged billing scheme because he wouldn’t support the sheriff’s bid for a Congressional nomination.
But with U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt ruling that evidence that goes beyond the charges is probably either irrelevant or prejudicial, Wexler was careful in his opening to avoid going into DeMarco’s motivation for going to the FBI about Walsh’s billing, saying only: “Something happened in March of 2014” between the two.
The situation could change if an attorney opens the door by asking questions beyond the charges, and Spatt allows the inquiry.
The trial is expected to continue Thursday. If convicted, Walsh faces up to 20 years in prison but would probably get far less.