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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Suffolk residents deserve real criminal justice reform

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota responds to

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota responds to County Executive Steve Bellone's calls for him to step down at his office in Hauppauge on May 12, 2016. Spota said he will not step down. Credit: James Carbone

Sources tell Newsday that federal prosecutors have been probing multiple instances involving the Suffolk district attorney’s office to determine whether there have been illegalities.

According to a report by Newsday’s Robert Kessler, prosecutors are seeking to determine whether Thomas Spota, the district attorney, and one of his chief assistants, Christopher McPartland, had any involvement in an attempted cover-up of the beating of a prisoner in a county police precinct by former Police Chief James Burke.

The probe doesn’t stop there.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District also is said to be examining a variety of other cases involving Spota and his office — including the shooting of an unarmed cabdriver by an off-duty Nassau County police officer in Huntington Station and a wiretap on a Suffolk County police officer who was working with federal authorities on a gang task force.

All of which pushes a request by Suffolk lawmakers that Spota appear before a legislative committee on Thursday to answer questions about allegations involving the district attorney’s office into a new, and harsher, light.

As of late this week, legislators said they still were awaiting word on whether Spota would appear before a scheduled meeting of the public safety committee.

Already, all but one Republican lawmaker, along with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, have called for Spota’s resignation. Spota continues to rebuff the demands, saying that neither he nor his office has done anything wrong.

No charges have been filed against Spota, and sources, in acknowledging the widening probe, stressed that the investigation is ongoing.

Some of the cases under scrutiny by federal prosecutors — including an investigation by Spota that led to former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s decision not to seek a third term — predate Bellone’s election.

Others stretch back to Bellone’s first term, which began in 2012.

What’s breathtaking is the scope and volume of the federal probe. In the cabdriver’s shooting, they cover the actions of Suffolk and Nassau officials. In fact, according to a Newsday report, prosecutors over the past several months have gone through dozens of cases that Spota and his office have been involved in, seeking to determine whether there have been any potential violations of federal law.

The probe also is trying to determine whether asset forfeiture money was misused by the district attorney’s office, and whether prosecutions — such as one involving a politically connected lawyer — may have been mishandled.

All of which Spota, in a statement released by his office on Friday, denied. McPartland and his attorney have declined to comment.

Will Spota appear before legislators on Thursday?

If he doesn’t, Legis. William Lindsay III, a Democrat from Bohemia, said he would join the calls for Spota’s resignation.

He would be the first of the legislature’s 11 Democrats to do so, following the lead of Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), the first lawmaker to demand Spota’s resignation.

A chorus of calls for Spota’s resignation sounds like Suffolk’s government is doing something.

Except, of course, that it’s not, really.

Such demands, and threatened responses, amount to more political theater, the latest in an ongoing season of frenzied finger-pointing sparked a few weeks ago by dueling news conferences by Bellone and Spota.

But there is something substantive lawmakers can do to address concerns about the integrity of Suffolk’s criminal justice system.

They could request that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appoint a special prosecutor to sift through the growing pile of accusations.

Threats and counterthreats, along with accusations and denials, aren’t going to restore residents’ trust.

But an independent state probe, to accompany the ongoing federal probe, would be a start.

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