Federal prosecutors want a judge to send Rob Walker, the former chief deputy for ex-Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, to prison for four years after his obstruction of justice conviction related to a probe of a $5,000 payment he took from a county contractor.
But Walker, a 46-year-old former state assemblyman from Hickville and onetime top Republican fundraiser, has asked U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack to give him probation at his Nov. 18 sentencing in Central Islip.
Prosecutors acknowledged in court papers that probation officials calculated Walker's sentencing range under federal guidelines as 12 to 18 months in prison.
But they said the seriousness of Walker’s conduct, his "flagrant disregard for the law and abuse of his position as a public official" warrant a stiffer punishment. They added that such a sentence would deter other public officials from using their positions to enrich themselves.
"The severity of the defendant’s conduct in this case cannot be overstated: While serving as the second most powerful official in Nassau County, Walker accepted an improper payment from the Contractor and then endeavored to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation to cover it up," prosecutors said in January court filing unsealed late Wednesday.
They also wrote that Walker had understood his conduct was criminal but simply didn’t care.
"Walker comported himself more like a mafia soldier rather than a deputy county executive," prosecutors added.
Making a case for probation
Walker's attorney, Brian Griffin, wrote in a filing also unsealed Wednesday that his client should get probation, saying Walker's criminal conduct "represents a complete aberration from his character."
He added: "A sentence of probation will provide adequate punishment and reflect the seriousness of the offense while permitting Mr. Walker to return to becoming a productive member of society and begin to rebuild his reputation."
The Garden City lawyer also pointed to Walker's testimony during the 2015 federal corruption trial of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam Skelos as another reason for Walker to receive probation.
The defense attorney called Walker’s cooperation "significant and useful to the government" while noting that because his client was still a member of the Republican Party and working in a political job at the time, his cooperation was "not without risk to himself."
Walker is "not a career criminal" but "a proud career public servant who committed a single criminal act" and is "devastated that his actions cost him a career he loved and he was good at," Griffin added.
He also said Walker, who faces a fine of up to $250,000 and has been unable to hold steady employment, would face dire financial implications for years to come.
Letters in support of Walker
Several members of Walker’s family, along with friends and former colleagues wrote letters to the judge extolling his kindness and generosity. They detailed how he took on the role of family provider at 24 when his father died suddenly, and also appealed for leniency in sentencing.
Among those who worked in county government during the Mangano administration and wrote such letters were Carnell Foskey, the former county attorney; Brian Nevin, a former county spokesman; Norma Gonsalves; the county legislature's former presiding officer; Daniel McCloy, a former county treasurer and deputy county attorney; and former press aide Mary Studdert.
Brian Hoesl and Kevin Black, who both previously led the Nassau County Police Superior Officers Association, also wrote letters on Walker's behalf.
Walker pleads guilty
Walker pleaded guilty to the obstruction charge in May 2019 following an indictment a year earlier that also had accused him of lying to FBI agents.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the felony charges against Walker resulted from an investigation into whether Nassau public officials had taken money from county contractors and if those parties then tried to conceal their actions.
Walker said later when pleading guilty that he had "met with an informant working with the government and … asked him not to disclose the $5,000 he gave me."
Prosecutors said the case centered around cash a contractor gave Walker in 2014 after a University of Notre Dame football game in Indiana. They said Walker accepted that person’s invitation to the game and took the $5,000 before returning to New York.
Prosecutors said that when Walker learned of a federal probe into potential corruption that included the circumstances surrounding the payment, he spoke to the contractor several times to try to convince that person to conceal its existence from the grand jury.
Walker also urged the contractor to tell investigators he had borrowed the money to pay for a relative’s cancer treatment, according to prosecutors.
Walker finally arranged to meet the contractor in a Hicksville parking lot and gave him an envelope with $5,000 in it, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, who said the FBI surveilled that meeting.
"When the contractor asked Walker if he told anyone about the money, Walker replied, ‘No, it doesn’t exist. That’s it,’" prosecutors said in the unsealed court papers.
"The contractor asked, ‘So, I’m not saying a word (to the grand jury)?’ and Walker replied, ‘(N)ope, doesn’t exist,'" a government filing also said.
Prosecutors also had alleged that Walker later lied to the FBI later about the payment, including by denying he got any cash from the contractor.
Walker's ties to county politics
Walker started out as an intern for Mangano and went on to manage Mangano’s 2009 upset victory in the county executive race. Mangano and his wife, Linda, are also facing sentencing in federal court after their convictions in a separate corruption case.
Walker, whose mother is a Republican county legislator, also previously served as deputy parks commissioner in the Town of Oyster Bay.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment on the unsealed filings ahead of Walker's sentencing.
Griffin said Thursday that the defense would rely on court papers and "make further arguments on the day of sentencing."
With Michael O'Keeffe