The loud chatter in the packed gallery fell silent when longtime Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota — now a criminal defendant — walked into the ninth-floor Central Islip courtroom for arraignment on corruption charges.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler didn’t take the bench until several minutes later Wednesday afternoon. Spota, the county’s top law enforcement official for 16 years, and his aide, Christopher McPartland, appeared as a mix of political adversaries, former district attorney investigators, journalists and others were seated behind them.
Spota and McPartland, who both pleaded not guilty to charges that included obstruction of justice and witness tampering, didn’t show any apparent emotion. Federal prosecutors said the pair agreed to conceal from authorities the 2012 in-custody beating of a suspect by then-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke.
“Not guilty,” Spota said, when Wexler asked for the defendants’ pleas. McPartland’s attorney entered the plea on his client’s behalf.
Spota otherwise remained silent — both inside and outside the courtroom — even as reporters asked whether he would resign as district attorney or serve out the remainder of his term through December.
“Tom Spota committed no crime,” said defense attorney Alan Vinegrad, a former interim U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, which includes Long Island.
Others who came to watch the arraignment included Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Solanga), both fervent Spota critics, and Clara and Thomas Datre, Sr., whose son was convicted of dumping contaminated materials in the Town of Islip and is currently incarcerated. Charges were dropped against the couple when their son pleaded guilty, but the couple said Spota had ruined their lives, so they came to court to see him face the justice system.
“He devastated our business,” Datre Sr. said.
Both of the men seeking Spota’s job — former Suffolk prosector Ray Perini and Suffolk County police Commissioner Timothy Sini — descended on the courthouse and declared themselves the antidote to Spota’s alleged misdeeds.
Perini said he was “sickened” and “deeply saddened” by the allegations and decried the “backroom deals” that kept Spota in power.
Sini, who called Spota “unfit” and said he should resign immediately, vowed to clean up the district attorney’s office if he is elected.
“People are going to be fired if they don’t leave beforehand,” Sini said.