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Federal judge limits scope of testimony in upcoming Walsh trial

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On March 15, 2016, the trial is scheduled to begin for former Suffolk sheriff's lieutenant and current chairman of the Suffolk County Conservative Party, Edward Walsh. Let's take a look back at some key points of this story. (Credit: Newsday Staff)

A federal judge Monday excluded testimony not directly related to the theft and wire fraud allegations against Edward Walsh, the head of the Suffolk County Conservative Party and a recently retired sheriff’s department lieutenant.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in the case of Walsh, the leader of the state’s largest Conservative Party. He is accused of fraudulently collecting more than $80,000 in pay from the sheriff’s department for time he did not work.

Eastern District federal prosecutors have said that Walsh put in time slips for hours when he was actually working on political business, golfing, gambling, getting clothing tailored, or relaxing at home. He is charged with theft of government funds and wire fraud.

Eastern District prosecutor Catherine Mirabile has said that between January 2011 and April 2014, every time sheet Walsh submitted claimed hours he did not work “except for when he was on vacation.”

Walsh’s defense attorneys have said their client’s work was essentially as a community liaison for the department — meeting with politicians and other community figures — and it was understood he could make up for time he did not work at a later date.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt rejected a request by prosecutors to introduce evidence that Walsh felt he could get away with false billing because, in part, he was being protected by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who allegedly balked at investigating the party leader. Spota has denied any wrongdoing.

Spatt also turned down the prosecutors’ request to introduce evidence of “bad character” on Walsh’s part, including an arrest on a sexual assault charge when he was a college student, failing to become a New York City police officer because a test showed he had used barbiturates, and being detained by Suffolk County police at an illegal card game where felons and drugs also were present.

Walsh has said he was eventually cleared of the sexual assault charge, and had done nothing wrong in the other examples cited by prosecutors.

Spatt said the introduction of such issues might be prejudicial or irrelevant.

Walsh’s attorneys also sought to cross-examine an expected key government witness, County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, on the grounds he only launched an investigation into his lieutenant because he had been denied the Conservative Party nomination for a congressional seat.

“This is a very simple case,” Spatt said. “The government says the defendant is guilty of theft and lying about it.”

Spatt indicated he would sharply limit any evidence that did not directly deal with that issue.

Spatt said, however, if Walsh’s defense brought up the congressional race as a motive, he might allow the government some limited testimony contradicting that argument.

But the judge said he was concerned that because of all the media publicity around the Walsh case, he might take several days to pick an impartial jury, contrary to the usual federal practice of picking a jury in one day.

Walsh’s defense attorneys, William Wexler and Leonard Lato, have said the government’s case is an attempt to pressure their client into cooperating about supposed political corruption in the selection of judges in Suffolk County. Walsh has acknowledged using his position to secure patronage jobs and political contributions.

Defense attorneys have said that Walsh is unaware of any corruption in the selection process and his actions are standard legal political practices.

Lato has said of Walsh, “The evidence at trial will show . . . wherever he was, he was doing the sheriff’s business.”

Walsh’s attorneys have said he has turned down a government-offered plea deal. Sources have said the plea would require Walsh to plead to a single count of theft of government funds. The guideline range for that felony ranges between 33 and 41 months in prison.

Wexler and Lato declined to comment afterward, as did federal prosecutors Mirabile and Raymond Tierney.

Three Republican lawmakers have been subpoenaed to appear as witnesses for the defense in the trial.

Last week, Wexler said State Sen. Philip Boyle, Assemb. Andrew Raia and Rep. Lee Zeldin have been subpoenaed by the defense team, though he was not sure all three would end up testifying.

Also subpoenaed by the defense, Wexler said, was Undersheriff Joseph Caracappa, the one-time presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature. Caracappa did not return a call to his office for comment.

With Rick Brand

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