Ex-Suffolk DA Thomas Spota guilty in police beating cover-up

CENTRAL ISLIP, Long Island (WABC) -- Former Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota was found guilty Tuesday of helping cover for a former protege who as police chief punched a handcuffed man suspected of stealing embarrassing items from his police department SUV, including sex toys and pornography.

Spota, now 78, and the former chief of his anti-corruption bureau, 53-year-old Christopher McPartland, were convicted of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

The jury determined Spota conspired with Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke and McPartland to pressure witnesses to not cooperate with an FBI investigation into the 2012 assault.

"The very people charged with upholding the law were the ones who were found guilty of assisting James Burke in his attempt to get away with his crime," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. "Instead of being leaders and standing up for justice, they did their best to manipulate the system and everyone who stood in their way. The actions of former District Attorney Thomas Spota and his Chief Aide Christopher McPartland go against everything that this department stands for, and it is unfortunate that their illegal activities could cast a negative light on the public's perception of this police department. Instead of supporting the proud men and women of this department, this trio focused on corruption and cover-ups."

According to federal prosecutors, Spota considered anyone cooperating with the investigation into Burke a "rat," demanded that a police officer find out who was cooperating and threatened that informants "would never work in Suffolk County again."

Spota and Burke had a kinship that dated to the ex-chief's teenage years in the late 1970s, when he was a star witness in a murder case that Spota was prosecuting.

Spota later hired Burke to work in his office as an investigator, promoted him to chief investigator and vouched for him when he was appointed chief of the police department, one of the largest suburban forces in the country with 2,500 officers.

The criminal charges hastened Spota's exit from office after 16 years as the top prosecutor in Suffolk County.

Already a lame duck for foregoing a re-election bid, Spota announced his retirement just days after he was charged amid growing pressure from politicians and the public.

He and McPartland each face up to 20 years in prison.

Burke, now 55, pleaded guilty in February 2016 to violating punch victim Christopher Loeb's civil rights and obstructing justice for leading a conspiracy to conceal his involvement in the assault. He finished his prison sentence in April.

Burke attacked Loeb in a police station interrogation room after Loeb was arrested for breaking into the ex-chief's unlocked, department-issued GMC Yukon and stealing a bag containing his gun belt, ammunition, a box of cigars and a bag containing sex toys and pornography.

Loeb's three-year prison sentence was vacated after Burke pleaded guilty. Authorities suspect he was stealing from cars to buy heroin.
Federal prosecutors hinted at Spota and McPartland's alleged involvement in the cover up prior to Burke's sentencing, writing in court papers that "high-ranking officials" from other Suffolk County agencies had helped the former chief silence potential whistleblowers.

According to federal prosecutors, Spota, McPartland, Burke and other police officers met and spoke by phone to discuss how to conceal Burke's role in the assault on Loeb. In addition to pressuring people not to cooperate, they asked witnesses to provide investigators with false information and withhold relevant information from investigators, federal prosecutors said.

Police officers who received subpoenas from the FBI were interrogated afterward by Burke's allies about whether they had talked, prosecutors said. Some were warned that if they admitted wrongdoing, their union would not pay their legal fees, prosecutors said.

Some police officers were in the interrogation room when Burke walked in and punched Loeb, prosecutors said.

At an August 2015 meeting involving some of the people involved in the alleged cover-up, prosecutors said, McPartland warned that Loeb "did not get beaten badly and there were no marks and that nothing would happen as long as the people that were in the room with (Loeb) did not talk."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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