Rob Walker, the former chief deputy for ex-Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, will serve an 18-month sentence in federal prison after an attempted cover-up of a $5,000 cash payment he took from a county contractor while serving as the county's second most powerful official.
"This is reprehensible behavior by such a high-ranking government official," U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack said Tuesday while sentencing Walker in Central Islip for his obstruction of justice conviction.
She called his conduct "business as usual" in the "corrupt culture" of Nassau County government and politics. She also gave Walker two years of supervised release in which he'll have to do 2,000 hours of community service and told him to surrender to prison officials Feb. 7.
"I am the most humbled person. I completely changed who I am," Walker said in court.
The ex-government official said he felt as if he had "aged tremendously" and apologized to Azrack, his family and "to the citizens of Nassau County, who I love."
Walker also said: "This has been a learning experience for me. I never thought I'd be in this situation."
Defense attorney Brian Griffin said after court that Walker intends to "serve his time" and "move on with his life." He noted that the judge also had said she thought Walker had "a good heart" and wanted to help people — characteristics he said described Walker beyond the mistake he made.
Walker declined to comment after court.
Walker pleaded guilty to obstruction
The 46-year-old former state assemblyman and accomplished Republican Party fundraiser from Hicksville pleaded guilty in 2019 after an indictment a year earlier connected to a probe of the payment he took from a Ridge businessman. Walker later returned the cash — not knowing the contractor was working with the FBI.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell asked Azrack to punish Walker with four years in prison, saying the defendant had "crossed a line between politics and criminality," a line he said was "often blurry on Long Island." The prosecutor added that a sentence that was above the federal sentencing guidelines range of 12 to 18 months in prison would be a deterrent in a region "where public corruption remains rampant."
Griffin asked Azrack to give his client probation, saying Walker "panicked" and acted during "a momentary lapse of judgment." The Garden City lawyer also asked the judge to consider the "totality" of Walker's life, including that he had "made Nassau County a better place" and was now a convicted felon with no career left.
Case grew from corruption probe
Walker’s indictment grew out of an investigation into whether Nassau public officials had taken money from county contractors and if those parties then tried to conceal their actions. When pleading guilty, Walker admitted he had "met with an informant working with the government and … asked him not to disclose the $5,000 he gave me."
In 2014, contractor Anthony Gulino gave Walker the cash at a hotel bar after a University of Notre Dame football game in Indiana. Prosecutors said Walker accepted Gulino’s invitation to the game and took the money before returning to Long Island.
But when Walker learned in 2017 about a probe that included the circumstances surrounding the payment, he spoke to Gulino several times to try to convince him to conceal its existence from the grand jury, according to prosecutors.
They said Walker also urged Gulino to tell investigators he had borrowed the money to pay for his mother-in-law's cancer treatment. Finally, Walker arranged to meet Gulino in a Hicksville parking lot and gave him an envelope with $5,000 in it during a meeting that the FBI was surveilling.
Walker explained to the contractor that he hadn’t told anyone about the money and that it didn’t exist, before agreeing that Gulino shouldn’t say a word to the grand jury, prosecutors said.
They also had alleged that Walker later lied to the FBI about the payment, but a charge of making false statements was dropped as part of his plea deal.
A Mangano intern
Walker started as an intern for Mangano and went on to manage Mangano’s 2009 upset victory in the county executive race. As chief deputy, he oversaw millions of dollars in procurement, hiring and other municipal undertakings that included labor negotiations, renovations to Nassau Coliseum and repairs after Superstorm Sandy.
The Hickville Republican Committee that Walker led took in $1.37 million between 2009 and 2018, according to the Board of Elections, with many of the donations coming from county contractors.
The same judge who sentenced Walker is presiding in a separate corruption case against Mangano and his wife, Linda, following their convictions at a 2019 retrial. They have yet to be sentenced and are seeking a new trial while claiming that Harendra Singh, the chief government witness in their case, committed perjury.
Gulino also was part of the Mangano case, when he testified under a cooperation agreement with the prosecution while trying to win leniency after pleading guilty to tax evasion in 2017.
Judge asked to consider "relevant conduct"
In Walker’s case, prosecutors asked Azrack ahead of the sentencing to consider other "relevant conduct" when punishing him. That included that a printing company official told federal investigators Walker solicited $12,000 in payments after Walker, while volunteering for an aspiring congressman, hired the printer to do $125,000 in business for the candidate's campaign.
Azrack rejected the defense contention that the money was a consulting fee. She said Tuesday she was "troubled" by Walker getting a "kickback" while out on bond in the obstruction case and considered it as character evidence when deciding his sentence.
She also made a public record of three other uncharged allegations prosecutors asked her to consider. That conduct included that Walker received hundreds of thousands of dollars from two political organizations, Friends of Ed Mangano and the Hicksville Republican club, to pay personal credit card bills.
The prosecution previously said that included Walker getting more than $250,000 from the Mangano organization to pay off personal charges without providing receipts. But the defense had countered that Walker didn’t have a Mangano campaign credit card and paid for political expenses before providing records and getting reimbursed.
The prosecution also had asked Azrack to consider the banking records of Walker's former county special assistant, suggesting she gave him kickbacks from county contracts she won after he helped her set up a consulting business in 2012 — an allegation the defense denied.
McConnell also had asked Azrack to consider when punishing Walker what he said appeared to be a pay-to-play gratuity Walker received in connection with a Sandy-related contract involving VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group Inc. that authorities investigated without filing charges.
Newsday previously reported the company was incorporated just days before the county solicited bids, and the company contributed to Walker's Hicksville political club the day he signed an $8.2 million contract amendment.
Role as Skelos witness
The defense wanted the judge to consider that Walker testified as a government witness during the 2015 federal corruption trial of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam Skelos. But McConnell had countered that Walker refused to speak to authorities until he had immunity and had to be compelled to testify.
In the end, Azrack said she gave that "little weight" in deciding Walker's sentence.
Walker, whose mother is a Republican county legislator and was among his supporters Tuesday, also previously served as deputy parks commissioner in the Town of Oyster Bay.
Eastern District U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement after Tuesday's sentencing that his office "will prosecute corrupt officials like Walker who seek to obstruct justice and abuse the public trust."
His office said Walker also will have to pay $5,000 in forfeiture and a $5,500 fine.