Ex-Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota sentenced to 5 years in prison in corruption case

CENTRAL ISLIP, Long Island (WABC) -- Former Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday following his 2019 conviction for helping cover for a former protégé who as police chief punched a handcuffed man suspected of stealing embarrassing items from his police department SUV, including sex toys and pornography.

Spota was convicted of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy, and he must report to prison by December 10. Spota was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.

The jury determined Spota conspired with Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke and former anti-corruption bureau chief Christopher McPartland to pressure witnesses to not cooperate with an FBI investigation into the 2012 assault.

McPartland was also sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday.

Eyewitness News has learned it appears Spota and McPartland will appeal their sentences.

U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack told Spota and McPartland that they violated the public's trust and described their actions as "unconscionable" and as "shocking criminal conduct." Azrack said no one is above the law.

"Instead of serving the people of Suffolk County, these defendants brazenly abused their exceptional positions of power and public trust to protect their friends and hurt their enemies," Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis said.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Boeckmann said Spota and McPartland got what they deserved.

"These sentences send the right message to the public that they can have faith in their criminal justice system - that the system is not broken," she said.

"I hope not to die in prison alone," the 79-year-old Spota told U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack before hearing his penalty, calling his conviction "the lowest point" in his life and saying he feared and expected it would be his legacy.

Prosecutors had argued the men deserved 8 years behind bars for doing "the exact opposite" of their jobs in the face of a scandal that eventually engulfed the county's law enforcement power structure.

Lawyers for Spoto and McPartland, 55, had argued home confinement was a more appropriate sentence.

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.

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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.

Burke 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 spoke to the judge before Spota and McPartland were sentenced.

"For well over a decade, I've personally endured horrendous crimes committed by and under this man," Loeb said referring to Spota. "Nobody should have this much power and be above the law."

Loeb's three-year prison sentence was vacated after Burke pleaded guilty. Authorities suspect he was stealing from cars to buy heroin.

Current Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said in a statement following the sentencings, "The actions of these defendants represent the worst of law enforcement."

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.

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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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