Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota and his top anticorruption prosecutor Christopher McPartland were convicted today by a federal jury in Central Islip of all four counts of an indictment charging them with conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and being accessories after-the-fact to former Suffolk police chief James Burke’s deprivation of a prisoner’s civil rights.
The verdict followed a six-week trial before U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack.
When sentenced, Spota, 78, and McPartland, 54, each face up to 20 years in prison.
“When a sitting district attorney and the chief of the government corruption bureau attempt to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation, it is nothing short of an attack on the justice system itself, and it will not be tolerated by the Justice Department,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donoghue said.
As proven at trial, Spota and McPartland, the top prosecutors in Suffolk County, abused their leadership positions and authority within the SCDAO to obstruct and attempt to obstruct the FBI and federal grand juries investigating the assault of a SCPD prisoner, Christopher Loeb, in order to protect then-chief Burke, Donoghue said.
On December 14, 2012, Loeb was arrested on larceny charges, among other offenses, in connection with his burglarizing Burke’s department-issued vehicle and stealing Burke’s gun belt and ammunition, as well as a duffel bag containing cigars, sex toys, a pornographic video and a bottle of Viagra. Loeb was transported to the Fourth Precinct in Hauppauge, New York, where he was assaulted by Burke and other members of the SCPD, while handcuffed and shackled to the floor.
The evidence at trial consisted of SCPD and SCDAO documents and records, voluminous telephone records, cell site records and testimony from 30 witnesses, including multiple cooperating witnesses. One such witness was James Hickey, a retired SCPD lieutenant who was part of the “Inner Circle” that included Spota, McPartland and Burke. Hickey and several other cooperating and immunized witnesses detailed the defendants’ use of intimidation and threats to pressure witnesses to withhold information, refuse to cooperate with law enforcement, and lie under oath in order to thwart the federal investigation of the Loeb assault. Hickey supervised the SCPD’s elite Criminal Intelligence Unit, which Burke referred to as his “Palace Guards.” Three detectives from this unit participated with Burke in the assault of Loeb. Hickey testified that Burke told him the Intel guys “did themselves proud,” they “beat the hell” out of Loeb, and it was “just like the good old days.”
Loeb’s case was handled by the district attorney’s Government Corruption Bureau, supervised by McPartland, although the charges would not typically be handled by that bureau, in an attempt to control the flow of information and cover-up the assault.
In February 2013, after Loeb’s attorney disclosed that her client had been assaulted at the Fourth Precinct, Hickey testified that McPartland advised him to “keep the guys quiet and tight … it’s imperative we keep Jimmy [Burke] out of jail, so we needed to keep the guys quiet and in line.”
Hickey testified that Spota regularly pressured him to keep the Intel detectives quiet by repeatedly inquiring – “Are they holding up?” “Are they towing the line?” – conveying the message that they should refuse to cooperate with the federal investigation and, if necessary, lie to protect Burke.
In April 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI initiated a federal grand jury investigation into the assault of Loeb.
On June 25, 2013, FBI special agents served members of the SCPD with federal grand jury subpoenas. That same day, defendants Spota and McPartland learned of the existence of the federal investigation. McPartland instructed Hickey to debrief his Intel detectives and learn what was said by the FBI agents serving the subpoenas, and find out who might be cooperating with them. However, because of the threats and intimidation, none of the Intel detectives cooperated with the investigation, and it was closed eight months later, in December 2013. Through the efforts of the defendants and Burke, the initial grand jury investigation of Burke’s civil rights violation was successfully derailed.
In or about mid-2015, Spota and McPartland learned that the federal investigation had been reopened, and that its scope had expanded to include an investigation of the obstruction of justice and witness tampering offenses. The defendants reacted swiftly to obstruct it. Hickey testified that at a meeting with the defendants in Spota’s office on June 4, 2015, Spota asked him, “Who do you think has flipped?” In discussing which of the detectives might be a “rat,” cooperating with federal investigators, Spota said about one of the likely cooperators, “If he talks, he’s dead. He will never work in Suffolk County again.” In that same meeting, McPartland told Hickey to pass along a message to the Intel detectives, threatening them with prosecution if they cooperated with the investigation.
The defendants’ efforts to thwart the grand jury investigations ultimately failed.
In early December 2015, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York indicted Burke. Burke pleaded guilty approximately two months later, admitting to his involvement in both the deprivation of Loeb’s civil rights and the conspiracy to obstruct justice. In November 2016, he was sentenced to 46 months’ in prison.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who in May 2016 called for Spota’s resignation, said the verdict confirmed his belief that Spota was “running a criminal enterprise out of the district attorney’s office.”
“At the time I called for his resignation, Tom Spota’s power was at its peak and their criminal enterprise was in full swing. This culture of corruption has had a real and profound impact. They ruined lives and destroyed careers,” Bellone said.
“Today, we have a new district attorney who has restored integrity to that office. We are also fortunate to have an outstanding police commissioner who previously headed the FBI’s Long Island office. With today’s verdict, we continue on our path to reform criminal justice in Suffolk County,” the county executive said.
“In light of the facts that have now been established through this trial, I have directed the county attorney to review all legal options for recovering salary and benefits with respect to convicted felons Spota and McPartland,” Bellone said.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the department is “in the process of reviewing all of the testimony and evidence presented at trial, and upon further review will take appropriate action if warranted.”
Hart said Suffolk residents should rest assured that the current leadership of the Suffolk PD is “committed to integrity, honesty and professionalism.”
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