Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning called for an investigation into...

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning called for an investigation into Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh's past legal issues, on June 12, 2014 at the Suffolk County legislative in Hauppauge. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk legislative Democrats and allies Thursday cited county correction lieutenant and Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh's past legal issues, including sentencing on a misdemeanor sex offense, in questioning how he could become a high-ranking official at the county jail.

"This individual has a record of [a] sex offense [and] felony criminal mischief," Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said at a public safety committee meeting. "And he's in a position of authority over extremely vulnerable and powerless women."

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said, "I'm appalled this is a person who works in law enforcement and works in the jail, where he has access to female prisoners."

Browning said in an interview that she was speaking out in part because of her own experience, disclosing that she was sexually assaulted when she was growing up in Ireland.

"You don't forget, when you're put in that type of situation," she said.

Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr., of Nesconset, the only Republican at the committee meeting, said afterward that "personnel matters ought to be dealt with in accordance with personnel law -- in executive session." He declined to elaborate.

Walsh's attorney, Frank Tinari of Central Islip, said in a statement that Walsh was "outraged" at the remarks by the lawmakers from the Democratic caucus.

"Those comments are entirely untrue but not surprising given that they are coming from his political adversaries," said Tinari, blaming "sour grapes from those who have opposed his championing of Conservative Party principles."

Newsday and News 12 Long Island reported June 5 that Walsh was arrested in 1984 as a University of Maryland student and sentenced to 12 months' probation for a misdemeanor sex offense. He did not disclose the Maryland arrest on his application to the sheriff's department, as is required.

Tinari said the Maryland charge "was ultimately dismissed, sealed and expunged."

Tinari, also the Huntington Town Conservative Party leader, said Walsh's initial application "was thoroughly vetted and he has served without incident for 24 years."

Walsh, 48, of East Islip was arrested on felony criminal mischief charges in 1989, less than a year before he applied to work for the sheriff's office. He pleaded guilty to a violation. Two years ago, Suffolk County law enforcement officials raided a Medford business and discovered illegal gambling, drugs and more than two dozen people, including Walsh. Although he was not among those arrested, Walsh's presence amid illegal activity sparked an investigation. The results have never been made public.

Walsh also is among the targets of a sheriff's investigation into whether correction department employees stole wages by padding their salaries with hours they never worked.

"I think we're all saddened, alarmed, frustrated, at some level angry, disappointed, by some of the allegations" outlined in the Newsday story, Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said at the committee meeting. "Whether it would be the district attorney or attorney general, they'll get to the bottom of it."

Browning has sent letters to state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision asking for an investigation into whether Walsh's employment application violated any laws.

Hahn said Thursday she has asked George Nolan, the legislative attorney, to look at ways to prevent people with a criminal background from being hired at the jail.

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