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Editorial: Fire officer-party leader from both jobs

Edward Walsh, center, Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman,

Edward Walsh, center, Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman, at a reception for Anthony S. Senft Jr., during his State Senate campaign on March 19, 2014. Credit: Newsday

Evidence is mounting that Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh, also a Suffolk County corrections lieutenant, needs to be let go. From both roles. The next question is whether there should be a criminal investigation of all the conflicts that can pop up when party and patronage intertwine.

A sheriff's office internal investigation has led to the arrest of corrections officer Steven Compitello, charged with third-degree grand larceny. Compitello, who earned $226,000 from the corrections department last year, $85,000 of it in overtime, is accused of working as a security guard for the Connetquot School District while claiming to be on the job for the county. He denies the allegation.

Three other corrections officers are under investigation, one of them Walsh. According to records obtained by Newsday, Walsh attended a Feb. 21 meeting with Oheka Castle owner and power broker Gary Melius at the Shirley headquarters of Interceptor Ignition Interlocks to offer "moral support" to Melius, who was involved in litigation over the company. The meeting occurred while Walsh was on the county's clock. Walsh said he was on his lunch break, and the meeting lasted 15 minutes. Other attendees said it lasted at least 45.

Records and surveillance also indicate instances in which Walsh was at a poker game or political event while on the county clock. Even if the allegations were proven, Walsh's chairmanship, and the politics of Long Island and its minor parties, would complicate matters.

Walsh, who earned $282,000 from corrections last year (including $51,000 in overtime), was also paid at least $62,000 as chairman of the Suffolk Conservative Party in 2013. While Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is Walsh's boss at corrections, Walsh is the political boss of DeMarco, a registered Conservative who was cross-endorsed on the Independence, Republican and Democratic ballot lines in his 2013 re-election.

So the problems and iffy relationships go well beyond inflated paychecks. The Conservative and Independence parties on Long Island -- sometimes working together -- have amassed extraordinary political power, not through attraction to their ideals, but by manipulating the process. Party leaders control judgeships and, at times, legislative seats, as well as plenty of public jobs. They do so by providing their ballot lines to those who proffer the best deals, often leaving voters with no real choices in elections.

Cross-endorsements should be outlawed in New York. Every party should have to put up its own candidate on its own line.

As for the relationships, they can be mind boggling. Suffolk County Independence Party chairman Frank MacKay is also close to Melius. A judge who oversaw the Interlock case that was the subject of the meeting Walsh attended with Melius is a political ally of MacKay. MacKay's wife works in corrections with DeMarco and Walsh. And so on and so on.

All this smoke could be the sign of a firestorm of political wheeling and dealing, one that is likely to demand an aggressive prosecutor to bring it under control. Walsh's party endorsed Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota. That alone is not enough to warrant a probe being handled by a district attorney from another county, but the public needs to be assured that the spoils of endorsements never reach a prosecutor's front door.