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Judge moves trial date of former Mangano aide to January

U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack, presiding over both the former Nassau exec's retrial and the trial Rob Walker, says her schedule is too full for his September proceedings.

Rob Walker, former chief deputy for Nassau County

Rob Walker, former chief deputy for Nassau County executive Edward Mangano, arrives at federal court in Central Islip for a status conference on July 26, 2018. Walker was indicted on federal charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A federal judge Thursday rescheduled the start of the trial of Rob Walker, the one-time chief aide to former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, until after Mangano’s retrial on corruption charges.

A trial date of Sept. 17 had been set for the start of Walker’s trial. Mangano’s former chief deputy county attorney, Walker faces charges of obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents in a case unrelated to Mangano.

The timing of Walker’s September trial meant it would have likely generated news coverage and ended shortly before the scheduled Oct. 9 start of the federal retrial of Mangano and his wife, Linda, raising the possibility of publicity affecting potential jurors in the former county executive’s case.

Federal prosecutors had argued in court papers that the Walker trial did not have to be moved because any potential juror prejudice about the Mangano case would be adequately addressed during selection of the panel as well as “by the Court’s jury instructions.”

In rescheduling the Walker trial to Jan. 7 — potentially weeks after she will have presided over the conclusion of the Manganos’ retrial, U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack did not address potential pretrial prejudice.

Rather, Azrack said at a brief court hearing Thursday, her September schedule was too crowded to conduct the Walker trial so close to the Manganos’ retrial.

Both Walker’s attorney, Brian Griffin of Garden City, and Eastern District prosecutor Artie McConnell declined to comment on the judge’s decision.

Reached by telephone after the decision, Edward Mangano’s attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, also declined to comment. The case against Walker, of Hicksville, a Republican and previously a state assemblyman, revolves around his allegedly taking a $5,000 cash payment from an unnamed county contractor after a 2014 University of Notre Dame football game in Indiana, according to federal prosecutors in court papers.

In 2017, when Walker heard about a federal investigation into possible corruption in the granting of Nassau County contracts — including his alleged receipt of the $5,000 — he talked with the contractor several times “in an attempt to convince the contractor to conceal the existence of the $5,000 payment from the grand jury,” prosecutors said.

Walker urged the contractor to give the grand jury “a false explanation” of “both the character of the payment and the reason for the payment,” prosecutors said.

Eventually, Walker gave $5,000 back to the contractor at a meeting in a Hicksville park, but the meeting was surveilled by FBI agents. When Walker left, the contractor handed the cash to the agents, prosecutors said.

When questioned later by the agents, Walker lied, saying that he did not get cash payments from the contractor, prosecutors said.

Walker has pleaded not guilty.

Griffin has called his client “a dedicated public servant” and denied there was any corruption involved in the situation.

“There is no tieback.” Griffin has said. “There is no relation back to a contribution for any additional services for the county. This is a 20-plus year friend who Mr. Walker took a personal trip with. And the U.S. Supreme Court has been clear on this issue. It is not illegal to do that.”

The Manganos’ first trial ended in a mistrial in June after nine days of jury deliberations.

The couple is being retried on the initial charges against them that center on Edward Mangano illegally using his office to help a longtime friend — former restaurateur Harendra Singh — in return for favors, including a $450,000 no-show job for Linda Mangano, according to prosecutors.

Edward Mangano faces seven counts, including federal program bribery, honest-services wire fraud, extortion and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Linda Mangano faces five counts, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.

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