Edward Walsh, head of Suffolk's Conservative Party and a lieutenant in the county sheriff's department, is expected to be charged as early as Wednesday with fraudulently collecting about $100,000 in salary for the time he claimed to be working for the department, said sources familiar with a federal investigation into his conduct.
The theft of government services charge against Walsh, which is a felony, is contained in a complaint based on information provided by FBI agents investigating the political leader's activities and has been approved by a federal judge, the sources said.
Federal prosecutors allege that Walsh, the chairman of the state's largest Conservative Party unit, was actually engaged in other unrelated activities when he claimed on time slips that he was working on sheriff department business, the sources said. The unrelated activities included Walsh's actual presence at political functions, the sources said.
Nellin McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Loretta Lynch, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, declined to comment.
Walsh is to surrender to federal authorities to be photographed, fingerprinted and arraigned at the federal court in Central Islip, the sources said.
Walsh's attorney, William Wexler, of Babylon, said Tuesday that he would not discuss whether his client was aware of the charge or had agreed to voluntarily surrender.
"I'm surprised that the government would wade into ordinary Conservative Party politics that has resulted from a political disagreement between the sheriff and my client," Wexler said.
Wexler declined to say what the disagreement was between Walsh and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco.
Newsday previously has reported that FBI agents have investigated whether Walsh was golfing at Hampton Hills Golf and Country Club in Westhampton Beach course near the county jail in Riverhead when he allegedly collected a salary for working for the sheriff. Also, it was reported that Walsh was at a business meeting with his friend Gary Melius, the politically influential owner of the Oheka Castle, while falsely billing for county work.
Why it's a federal case
Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction in the Walsh case because the sheriff's department receives federal funding.
Newsday also has reported that a federal investigation into Walsh is part of a broader probe into possible political corruption in Suffolk County, including the appointment of judges, and the business activities of politically connected people such as Melius.
Walsh understood his sheriff's job to be a patronage plum, essentially requiring public relations, generating good will for the sheriff's department and serving as a liaison, smoothing over any complaints about the department's conduct from judges and other influential political and business figures, the sources have said. This allowed Walsh to believe he could come and go as he pleased, they said. Walsh was not even required to buy or wear a uniform, the sources said.
Sources have also said that Walsh was questioned by FBI agents and asked to cooperate in the corruption probe, but he refused, saying he has done nothing wrong: maintaining that his actions for the Conservative Party were traditionally accepted political practices, and his sheriff's position allowed him to make up later for scheduled work he did not perform.
Wexler previously has said much the same, when questioned about a federal investigation into Walsh, that his client has done nothing improper. Wexler also has said the nature of Walsh's work was such that he could later make up any missed work without penalty. Walsh has said he worked as a liaison between the courts and Suffolk jails and investigated security issues in the jails.
DeMarco has been elected sheriff on the Conservative line twice, without opposition from Democrats or Republicans.
The two have a complicated relationship: DeMarco is Walsh's boss in the department, but DeMarco is under his lieutenant in the party hierarchy.
DeMarco has said he started an internal probe into Walsh's collection of wages after a Newsday article in February reported that his lieutenant was at an unrelated private business meeting when he was supposed to be at work.
DeMarco subsequently asked for federal investigators to look into the situation. The sheriff has said his interest was not political, but only in seeking whether the trust county taxpayers place in public employees was being violated.
Power of his party
Support by Walsh's Conservative Party is often actively courted by other politicians because, while the party receives only a fraction of votes drawn by Democrats and Republicans, these can provide the margin of victory in elections. As a result, Conservative activists often get judgeship nominations, judicial clerkships and patronage posts out of proportion to their vote totals.
Wexler has said his client has been involved only in the selection of "outstanding candidates" for judicial nominations, including well-regarded prosecutors from the office of the Suffolk County district attorney.
An attorney for Melius has denied his client has done anything improper.