Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco told county legislators Thursday that federal investigators had to step into the prosecution of former county Conservative Party Chairman Edward Walsh as a result of a “true moral failure” by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office.
DeMarco, a Conservative, echoed federal prosecutors’ motions in Walsh’s federal trial last month, which said Spota “thwarted” early attempts to investigate when Walsh was at work.
DeMarco said the U.S. attorney’s office “had to get involved in some recent cases ... is because of true moral failure from ... the district attorney’s office. And that’s why the U.S. attorney’s office did get involved.”
DeMarco pressed lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee to increase oversight of the district attorney’s office. “To me that’s truly where it’s needed,” DeMarco said. “I understand that some of you may feel intimidated or there might be a fear factor there.”
Walsh was convicted March 31 in U.S. District Court of wire fraud and theft of government funds for illegally collecting more than $200,000 in pay and overtime as a Sheriff’s lieutenant for time he spent golfing, gambling and conducting Conservative Party business.
In a statement, Spota spokesman Robert Clifford said DeMarco’s assertions were, “fiction. At all times the District Attorney was ready, willing and prepared to meet with the Sheriff to begin an investigation into corruption in the Sheriff’s Department just as he has in every other law enforcement agency and political party in Suffolk County.”
Clifford added that, “with no explanation,” sheriffs “investigators failed to show up for two scheduled meetings and promises to schedule addition meetings did not materialize.”
Federal prosecutors said in a pretrial motion in the Walsh case that Spota blocked efforts by DeMarco to investigate Walsh. They cited a May 7, 2014 meeting at which DeMarco asked Spota to subpoena Walsh’s records from a golf course for his internal investigation. According to the motion, Spota told DeMarco, “I am not subpoenaing anything.”
DeMarco testified Thursday in support of a proposed measure to require the sheriff’s Office to provide quarterly reports to lawmakers about internal affairs complaints. The legislature passed a similar bill concerning the police department after former Chief of Department James Burke pleaded guilty in February to federal charges of violating the civil rights of a Smithtown man and then orchestrating a cover-up.
DeMarco said he understood why lawmakers had put forward the bills.
“Yet, I don’t see any legislation on an agenda for any oversight of the district attorney’s Office, and to me that’s truly where it’s needed,” he said. “I’ve experienced the fear of the intimidation, so I know what that feeling is, but you have to power through it, and I know you’re all brave and I hope you do.” Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) said the case “shouldn’t have had to go to the U.S. attorney’s office. His comments were out of frustration for lack of cooperation by the D.A.’s office.”
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said during the meeting, “I can see the frustration on his face and can’t imagine being put in a position where you have someone under your command and control that is obviously violating the law and you want to do something about it and you feel restricted.”