Richard “Rob” Walker, former chief deputy to then County Executive Ed Mangano, pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements to FBI agents. He was released on $200,000 surety bond, for which he and his wife put up their Hicksville home.
According to court papers, the case against Walker, 43, centers around a $5,000 payment made to him in Indiana at a University of Notre Dame football game by an unnamed contractor in 2014, and Walker’s attempts to conceal the payment from investigators. The government contends that Walker attempted to “obstruct and impede” a federal grand jury investigation, and lied to the FBI about receiving the $5,000 from the unnamed individual.
Walker, a Republican from Hicksville, represented the 15th Assembly District, which includes East Meadow, from 2005 to 2009. Before that, he was a full-time employee in the Town of Oyster Bay Parks Department from 1998 to 2005. He is also the son of Rose Marie Walker, a Republican county legislator and former Oyster Bay councilwoman.
The former state assemblyman surrendered his passport to the court after his indictment and was asked to surrender all weapons in his possession to a local police precinct. Walker must ask permission from the court’s pretrial services division if he wants to leave the New York area.
Prosecutors requested that the court post a substantial bond and that the defendant satisfy several conditions before he was released to “assure Walker’s presence at future court appearances and the safety of the community.”
Although Walker waived the reading of the indictment at his arraignment, United States Magistrate Anne Shields repeated its details in court to make sure the Walkers understood that if he “jumped bail,” they could lose their house.
Walker also waived his right to a speedy trial in order to have more time to prepare his defense. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 16.
Mangano is set to go to trial in just over two weeks on corruption charges.
After leaving the arraignment at the Alfonse D’Amato United States Courthouse in Central Islip at about 1 p.m. Thursday, Walker’s attorney, Brian Griffin of Garden City, said there was no political misconduct alleged in the two charges filed against his client. He referred to Walker as a “dedicated public servant” who spent his adult life in public service.
“Over the last 2 ½ years, the federal government has gone through every contract Mr. Walker ever dealt with, every campaign contribution he ever received,” Griffin told reporters outside the courthouse. “What we now know from today’s charges is there is no allegation, nor is there any charge of public corruption. There is no allegation, nor is there any charge of bribery, official misconduct or improper campaign contributions.”
“What we are left with then is two charges — two charges that Mr. Walker takes very seriously and two charges that he has been steadfast about from the beginning. And what he said then and what he said today in that courthouse are the words ‘not guilty.’ That’s the defense we intend to follow through on,” Griffin added.
Later, Griffin said that what’s most important to look at is what is not being charged here.
“This isn’t a public corruption indictment,” he said. “This is a personal trip with a 20-year friend. There is no charge back, no tie back to a contribution for any additional services from the county. There is no kickback. Nor has the government tied it back to, or alleged it was, a quid pro quo.”
“The government likes to characterize people as contractors or other nefarious things,” Griffin went on to say. “This is a 20-plus-year friend that Mr. Walker took a personal trip with. And the U.S. Supreme Court has been clear on this issue. It’s not illegal to do that. This allegation is not illegal conduct.”
The Indictment results from an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service into whether public officials in Nassau County, including Walker, accepted payments from contractors with Nassau County and whether the individuals involved have obstructed the investigation and given false statements to federal law enforcement officials.
The charges allege that while Walker was chief deputy county executive, he obstructed or attempted to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation in order to cover up the fact that in October 2014, he accepted a $5,000 cash payment from a county contractor. At that time, Walker allegedly accepted an invitation from a county contractor to attend a University of Notre Dame football game in South Bend, Ind. While in Indiana, Walker accepted a $5,000 cash payment from the contractor after the football game, before returning to New York. Thereafter, in 2017, once Walker learned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI had opened a grand jury investigation of potential corruption in Nassau County government, including the circumstances surrounding the $5,000 payment, Walker spoke with the contractor on several occasions to convince the contractor to conceal the $5,000 payment from the grand jury.
Further, Walker urged the contractor to provide a false explanation to the grand jury about both the character of the payment and the reasons for it. Finally, Walker arranged to meet the contractor in a Hicksville park to return the $5,000. The FBI staked out the meeting, during which Walker gave the contractor an envelope containing $5,000, which was then turned over to law enforcement. When later interviewed by the FBI about the payment, Walker denied receiving any cash payments from the contractor.
During the investigation, the government said it identified additional third parties that Walker enlisted to assist him with obstructing the grand jury investigation and convincing the contractor to lie to law enforcement about the cash payment.
Walker’s indictment comes more than two years after he confirmed while testifying in the federal corruption trial of former State Sen. Dean Skelos that federal prosecutors were probing his role in county contracts that went to political campaign contributors.
Walker, who heads the West Hicksville Republican Club, is currently “gainfully employed,” according to Griffin.
After his arraignment, Walker got into a brown Ford F-150 pickup and left without commenting.
Escorting Walker and his wife to and from the courthouse today was retired Nassau County Deputy Parks Commissioner Robert Dwyer, also a Hicksville resident and longtime friend of Walker’s family. Dwyer retired from his $130,000 a year county job in August 2010, after working less than eight months. He took an early retirement buyout, and was immediately hired back as a consultant, making “no more than $30,000 a year.”
Dwyer ran the parks system in the Town of Oyster Bay for decades before taking the county job, where he was credited with launching a summer recreation camp and concert series. His post-retirement, part-time status at the county “was approved by the Civil Service Commission after following proper procedure by seeking an ethics board opinion,” county officials said at the time.