Former District Attorney Thomas Spota, center, arrives at federal court...

Former District Attorney Thomas Spota, center, arrives at federal court in Central Islip with his attorney Alan Vinegrad, on Aug. 10. Credit: James Carbone

Thomas Spota came into office as Suffolk County district attorney promising to be a reformer, an innovator, an antidote to political corruption.

"I put my heart and soul into this position," Spota, his face red and voice raw, told U.S. District Court Judge Joan M. Azrack before she sentenced him Tuesday.

He was sitting near his usual spot, at the defendant's table, where he'd spent six weeks listening from the start of his trial to the day he'd been convicted by a jury of his peers.

"If I were younger," he told the judge, "I would hope to rebuild …"

A few minutes earlier, Spota — like every one else in Azrack's courtroom — had been wearing a protective mask.

When he lowered it, the chin Spota once had held high during news conferences was angled low.

"My family," he said, "will forever be marked by my disgrace."

At times, his eyes seemed on the verge of spilling tears.

"I had hoped my successes would outweigh my failures," he said, before going on to speak of "a violation of trust."

"I expect," Spota told Azrack, "that is always the way I will be remembered."

"… I had hoped I would deliver a farewell speech at a retirement party," he said.

And somewhere down the line, "peacefully reflecting on lives well lived."

Spota said he did not want to be separated from his wife of 50 years.

"I hope not to leave her alone," he told Azrack, "which is something I vowed I would [not] do, 50 years ago."

"I hope," Spota went on, "not to die in prison alone."

"My future … ," he concluded, before pulling up his mask once more, "is left in your honor's hands."

A few beats later, it was the judge's turn.

As she had with Spota's co-defendant, Christopher McPartland, an hour or so earlier, Azrack made careful work of mapping out where she intended to go.

She said she intended to hand down a lengthy prison sentence.

She said she would do so as a punishment, and as a deterrent.

And as she had before sentencing McPartland, Spota's former anti-corruption chief, she quoted Robert H. Jackson, a former U.S. prosecutor and U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

"The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America," she said, quoting a portion of Jackson's speech entitled "The Federal Prosecutor," which goes on:

"His discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations."

But, Azrack said, going on to quote a later portion of the speech, "While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst."

As prosecutors, Spota and McPartland abused their positions to help a friend, James Burke, the former chief of department for the Suffolk County police, Azrack said.

And to hurt anyone who came to be perceived as an enemy.

Two of those "enemies," former Suffolk police detectives Robert Trotta and John Oliva, were in court on Tuesday.

Trotta is a Republican Suffolk County legislator; Oliva retired after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for leaking information to a Newsday reporter.

At one point, as Azrack addressed the defendants, Trotta leaned forward to show a reporter a news release from Tim Sini, a Democrat who is Suffolk's current district attorney. Sini is running for reelection against Ray Tierney, a Republican and former assistant U.S. attorney.

The release said Sini's office would review Oliva's conviction.

But let's get back to the proceedings.

"The facts … of this case are so outrageous," Azrack told Spota.

"The sitting DA, let me repeat that," she said, "the sitting DA [engaged] in a yearslong cover-up."

Among the specifics detailed by the judge was a meeting in the district attorney's office, during which Spota, according to trial testimony, threatened a detective and a police supervisor to maintain silence about the beating Burke gave to a shackled prisoner who had stolen items from the chief's car.

Spota, Azrack said, "sat at his desk, and cloaked with the authority of his office, engaged in shocking conduct."

At the defendant's table, Spota's gaze was down, as he made notes.

A few feet away, McPartland, as he had for most of the proceeding, stared ahead silently.

"Today," Azrack said, "I am compelled to send a clear message to the defendants … and citizens of Suffolk County."

She looked toward the tables where Spota and McPartland sat.

"No one," said Azrack, who'd kept her light pink mask up most of the time, "is above the law."

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