by Ed Lyon
The former District Attorney of Suffolk County, New York, Thomas Spota, and his former top assistant, Christopher McPartland, appeared before a sentencing judge in a federal courtroom on August 10, 2021. But instead of seeking the harshest sentences allowed by law as they had often done for convicted defendants, the two this time pleaded for home confinement and community service as their own punishment for their 2019 convictions on charges of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Pointing to Spota and McPartland’s lack of remorse, U.S. Attorney Nicole Boeckmann sought a departure from the sentencing guidelines of 57 to 71 months in prison, asking for 96 months instead.
“Community service and home confinement are insufficient punishments here,” agreed U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack.
She stuck with the guidelines, sentencing the pair to five years in prison, though she noted the former prosecutors had “abused their positions of public trust, substantially interfered with the administration of justice, held leadership roles and committed crimes extensive in scope and planning.”
Spota groveled to the judge, stating, “I hope not to die in prison alone.”
The path to prison for the 79-year-old Spota and McPartland, 55, began in 2012, when a heroin addict named Christopher Loeb stole a duffel bag from a squad car used by James Burke, then the county’s police chief. Inside the bag were not only Burke’s pistol, gun belt and ammunition but also sex toys, pornography and Viagra.
Loeb was located, arrested and put in restraints before he was taken to a Hauppauge precinct house. There Burke arrived, along with detectives Kenneth Bombace, James Hickey and Anthony Leto, and the group assaulted the still-shackled prisoner.
When Loeb complained to the U.S. Justice Department about the beating, the four cops agreed to stick to a story that McPartland crafted for them, one that painted Loeb as “a junkie thief who fabricated his tale of an assault.”
Spota, who was in on the plan, had first met Burke in 1979, when the future police chief was a 14-year-old prosecution witness in a murder trial. In the mid-1990s, after Burke had become a cop, Spota successfully represented him in an official misconduct case. With the backing of Burke and other county cops, Spota won election to District Attorney in 2001. He then returned the favor by assisting Burke in his rise to police chief in 2011.
Regarding the conspiracy to cover up Loeb’s beating, the jury at Spota and McPartland’s trials heard how they and Burke referred to themselves as the “Inner Circle” in the county’s law enforcement structure, or sometimes “the Administration.” It was only with a grant of immunity to now-retired detective Kenneth Bombace—one of the Administration’s other members and another of Loeb’s assailants—that testimony about the cover-up was brought before a grand jury.
At trial, another of Loeb’s assailants, former Detective Anthony Leto, testified that he went along with the scheme because “I feared for everything—my job, my partners, my well-being, my family—everything.”
The third, Lt. James Hickey, who had also by then retired, was the only one to directly testify that Spota and McPartland were involved in the cover-up, telling the jury that “if you crossed Tom Spota, Chris McPartland, Jimmy Burke, you crossed all.”
“They will destroy you. Personally, financially, criminally. They will go after your family,” he insisted, adding: “They know no bounds.”
In 2016, three years before the two prosecutors were tried, Burke was sentenced to a 46-month term. He is already out of prison, residing in a halfway house.
In November 2021, the Second Circuit denied a request from Spota and McPartland to remain free on bail while they appealed their convictions. On December 10, the two surrendered at separate federal prisons.
In addition to his sentence, Spota was also hit with a $100,000 fine. He is now at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons, while McPartland is at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas. He was not fined, but before his incarceration his attorney said McPartland had “been reduced to working as a sales clerk in a liquor store” by the loss of his law license and the stress of his trial.
U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis said that justice had been served after Spota and McPartland’s “reprehensible violations of the public trust.” The bigger question is whether Loeb was their only victim or, over the decades of absolute power they enjoyed in Suffolk County, if they victimized other members of the community as well?
Sources: Newsday, AP News, WABC-TV, WNBC-TV
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