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DA Spota ‘thwarted’ efforts to investigate Walsh, feds say

Thomas Spota talks to the media at Suffolk

Thomas Spota talks to the media at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on April 29, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota repeatedly “thwarted” efforts to investigate the questionable actions of Edward Walsh, the Suffolk County Conservative Party leader and recently retired lieutenant in the Suffolk sheriff’s office, federal prosecutors said in a filing late Tuesday.

The accusations came in a 27-page pretrial motion — accompanied by 31 pages of exhibits — filed by Eastern District prosecutors in federal court in Central Islip before Walsh’s criminal trial, which is scheduled to begin with jury selection next Tuesday.

The motion, filed by prosecutors Catherine Mirabile and Raymond Tierney, stated that attempts by Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco to investigate allegations of misconduct involving Walsh “were thwarted at every turn by Spota and others.”

Walsh is charged with theft of government funds and wire fraud for collecting more than $80,000 in pay and overtime pay by allegedly claiming that he was working for the sheriff’s department when he was actually golfing, gambling, working on party political activities, being fitted by his tailor for clothing or relaxing at home.

One of Walsh’s attorneys, William Wexler of North Babylon, said of the allegations in Tuesday’s filing, “I have no doubt that if my client did anything wrong, District Attorney Spota would have found it.

“On the contrary, Sheriff DeMarco suddenly developed his zeal about my client after he was denied the Conservative Party nomination to run for Congress. Where was DeMarco in all the previous years that Mr. Walsh was in the sheriff’s department?”

Nellin McIntosh, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, declined to comment on the filing Tuesday. Suffolk district attorney spokesman Robert Clifford did not immediately return a call for comment.

Among the instances cited in the motion was one where Spota allegedly hindered efforts by DeMarco to investigate why Walsh was present during a raid on an illegal poker game at which felons participated.

According to the prosecutors, the DA’s office did not cooperate with DeMarco’s inquiry into the poker game to the extent of not even returning phone calls at one time from the department about the situation.

After some time passed, according to the motion, Spota told DeMarco that Walsh’s conduct was not criminal.

While the motion also cites County Attorney Dennis Brown for not cooperating with a sheriff investigation into Walsh’s conduct, the vast majority of the filing is devoted to Spota’s actions involving complaints against Walsh.

“The relationship between the defendant [Walsh] and Spota provide the defendant with the continued opportunity and incentive to commit the charged conduct, as the defendant knew he would not be prosecuted for, in sum, stealing his salary from the sheriff’s office,” the motion said.

DeMarco’s inability to “find an audience for the case with the local state prosecutor [Spota],” according to the motion, stemmed from “the power and influence yielded by the defendant.”

The motion argues that Walsh was not penalized for these actions because he had a history of being protected by Spota and Spota’s office when complaints were made about his conduct.

Spota’s failure to deal with complaints against Walsh “allow the defendant to feel comfortable continuing to break the law because Spota was going to protect him,” the prosecutors wrote.

The legal purpose of the pretrial motion is to request that the judge trying the case allow testimony about unrelated activities that while not charged go to Walsh’s alleged “bad character,” showing he has a propensity for untoward actions.

It is also filed in an attempt to undermine potential defense arguments that DeMarco went to federal authorities in order to get even with Walsh because he would not back DeMarco’s wish to run for a Congressional seat.

The federal investigation into Walsh began in May 2014 after DeMarco handed over records to the FBI indicating that Walsh may have been collecting salary for time he did not work.

Mirabile has said in court that between January 2011 and April 2014 every time sheet he put in was fraudulent “except for when he was on vacation.”

Walsh has denied the federal charges and asserted both that his job for the sheriff had flexible hours and entailed his acting as a liaison with community and political figures and allowed him to make up for time he put in at a later date.

According to the motion, DeMarco asked for assistance from Spota to investigate allegations that Walsh was working on Conservative Party activities in his sheriff’s office and was golfing on work time.

According to the prosecutors, DeMarco said that Spota told him that Conservative Party material Walsh had in his office was “not a big deal.”

Further, when DeMarco asked for a subpoena to probe Walsh’s golf records, Spota told him, “I’m not subpoenaing anything,” according to the filing.

In an unrelated case, the district attorney’s office did charge another member of the sheriff’s office, Steve Compitello, with falsely billing for time he did not work.

DeMarco said that at a meeting with Spota, the district attorney told him that “if he [Spota] knew about [Walsh’s] time sheet problems he would not have gone so hard on Compitello, implying that the DA’s office would not have charged Compitello if they knew the defendant [Walsh] engaged in the same conduct,” the prosecutors wrote in the court papers.

On May 14, 2014, the motion states, DeMarco met with Brown to request subpoenas of Walsh’s cellphone. Brown said he was unsure if he could issue subpoenas, according to the motion, and said he wanted to speak with Spota. “Shortly thereafter, Brown denied DeMarco’s request for subpoenas,” according to prosecutors. Phone records show Spota and Walsh talked 15 times between April 22, 2014 and June 11, 2014.

The motion later discusses Sheriff’s Lt. Brian Baisley’s internal affairs investigation into Walsh. Walsh told Baisley “if you think that the agency across the river [Spota’s office] is going to do anything about this, you’re wrong,” the motion states.

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