A Nassau judge sentenced ex-NYPD detective and private investigator Jay Salpeter to probation Friday, capping a saga that took him from the high of helping overturn Martin Tankleff’s murder conviction to the humiliation of his own arrest.
Salpeter, 70, of Glen Cove, pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment in April after allegations he tried to shake down Tankleff for more money years after helping free him from prison in one of Long Island’s most infamous murder cases.
Last year a Nassau grand jury indicted Salpeter on charges of attempted grand larceny by extortion that included a felony count and aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor.
Salpeter told Acting State Supreme Court Justice Tammy S. Robbins before she sentenced him to three years of probation and signed protective orders for Tankleff and his family that he’d always been proud of his work but had gotten “ill.”
Prosecutors called Salpeter's sentence, which was part of a negotiated plea bargain, "appropriate" on Friday.
Salpeter said in an interview after court that if he could go back in time, he still would choose to work to free Tankleff. The ex-detective said he is a recovering alcoholic who is getting psychological counseling.
Nassau prosecutors said Salpeter threatened to physically harm Tankleff and destroy his reputation in what amounted to a three-year “shakedown” to try to get more money for investigative services he provided years ago.
At 17, Tankleff, now an attorney, confessed during Suffolk police questioning to killing his parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, in the family’s Belle Terre home in 1988.
The next day Tankleff recanted the admission, refused to sign police statements and accused a business associate of his father’s in the slayings.
The business associate owed Seymour Tankleff more than $500,000, but police never considered him a suspect.
Tankleff was serving 50 years to life in prison when he asked Salpeter to do some work on the case for free. Salpeter then found evidence that men connected to Seymour Tankleff’s business associate could have committed the crime.
An appellate court set aside Tankleff’s conviction in 2008 and Suffolk prosecutors didn’t retry him.
Last June, attorney Thomas Liotti said in a defense court filing that Salpeter planned to use a psychiatric defense in his case.
The filing said Salpeter had “intermittent alcohol induced psychosis and depression” and “suffered from a mental disease or defect such that he lacked criminal responsibility for his actions.”
Liotti said on the day’s of Salpeter’s arraignment that Salpeter had earned $5,000 for his work on the Tankleff case, but Tankleff and his lawyers “got millions” in a civil settlement.
The defense attorney also said Salpeter only had been looking for “reasonable compensation” and his actions “never amounted to a serious threat.”
Nassau prosecutors said Salpeter sent “chilling” emails and voicemails to Tankleff, asking for sums that included $200,000 and threatening to go public with a statement saying he thought he had made a mistake and Tankleff actually had killed his parents.
Tankleff, who declined comment Friday, said in a statement after Salpeter’s indictment that while Salpeter was “instrumental” in freeing him, “what transpired over the past several years was not acceptable and had to stop.”
In January, a psychologist who is a retired NYPD sergeant did an assessment on Salpeter that Salpeter shared with Newsday on Friday.
It said he had been “ranting, voice messaging, and texting … under the influence of severe intoxication and undiagnosed, and untreated Complex PTSD.”
Salpeter was exposed to “real trauma events” as a detective that included a case where a murdered infant was fed to a pet dog, the psychologist wrote.
Salpeter said Friday he finally was ready to put the Tankleff matter behind him.
“When you get a scar on your body, it stops hurting, right? But you’ll have a scar there,” he said. “I’ll always remember this, you know? There’s nothing I can do about it anymore … Look where it put me.”