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Suffolk County becomes a federal case. What’s next?

Edward Walsh, Suffolk Conservative Party chairman and sheriff's

Edward Walsh, Suffolk Conservative Party chairman and sheriff's lieutenant, leaves federal court in Central Islip on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

The only real surprise from the trial of Edward Walsh was how fast the federal jury returned a guilty verdict.

The 10-day trial ended just about an hour after the jury began deliberating whether Walsh, then the chairman of Suffolk County’s Conservative Party, conducted his political business on the taxpayer’s dime. Make that many dimes, because the jury found that as a county sheriff’s employee, Walsh put in bogus time sheets for $200,000 while he played golf, sat at the poker table at Foxwoods Casino, went to the tailor and conducted political fundraisers.

The Walsh case was a very simple one. U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt said as much in a pretrial hearing: “The government says the defendant is guilty of theft and lying about it.”

Walsh claimed he was working at the county jail in Riverhead, but the government presented plenty of cellphone and credit card evidence to prove he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. It was such an open-and-shut case that a junior prosecutor, perhaps in a local district attorney’s office, could have handled it.

So why make a federal case out of it? Because Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota was not responsive.

Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco testified that he brought the findings of his internal investigation to the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District. Those sheriff’s department internal affairs investigators testified at trial that Walsh boasted to them, “If you’re worried about the other agency across the river doing anything, don’t . . . They aren’t going to do anything.” The Suffolk district attorney’s office sits across the Peconic.

In a March statement on his website, Spota said DeMarco never provided him with any information that would support a prosecution. There might have been good reason why DeMarco never showed up with the files. Federal prosecutors said that Walsh’s cellphone records showed 15 calls between him and Spota in the spring of 2014, when DeMarco was trying to initiate a probe of Walsh.

Walsh will be sentenced in July. That should be after the sentencing in federal court of James Burke, the former Suffolk County police chief who once worked for Spota, a longtime mentor and friend, for more than a decade as the district attorney’s lead investigator. Burke pleaded guilty in February to assaulting a Smithtown man in custody at a police precinct and then orchestrating a cover-up. Burke admitted to telling other detectives to get their “stories straight” about what happened at the precinct. The feds brought down Burke, someone else who clearly was not worried about the local district attorney prosecuting him.

Federal prosecutors are not done yet. They are probing whether Spota’s office used wiretaps and tracking devices to keep tabs on detectives and others not considered on their side. They have notified Christopher McPartland, Spota’s deputy for public corruption and a friend of Burke’s, that he is a target of a federal grand jury.

Each successful case by federal prosecutors undermines the integrity of the Suffolk district attorney’s office. After Burke’s indictment, U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said, “Stay tuned.”

We’re waiting.

These seemingly simple cases depict a complex pattern of how party politics and law enforcement might operate to protect friends and punish enemies in Suffolk County. — The editorial board