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Martin Tankleff's former private investigator will use psychiatric defense, court papers say

Jay Salpeter, a private investigator,  at the

Jay Salpeter, a private investigator,  at the Riverhead Criminal Court in 2004. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The private investigator who allegedly tried to shake down Martin Tankleff for more money years after helping him overturn his murder conviction for killing his parents is planning to use a psychiatric defense in his case.

Jay Salpeter was suffering from "intermittent alcohol induced psychosis and depression" at the time he allegedly committed attempted grand larceny by extortion and aggravated harassment, his attorney said in a June 7 filing.

Salpeter, 69, of Glen Cove, "suffered from a mental disease or defect such that he lacked criminal responsibility for his actions," defense attorney Thomas Liotti also wrote.

In addition, evidence will show the defendant had "acute traumatic stress, PTSD and psycho social stressors at the catastrophic level," according to the Garden City lawyer's filing.

Last month Salpeter, a former NYPD homicide detective, pleaded not guilty to an indictment that has him facing up to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison if convicted of the top count against him.

A spokesman for the Nassau district attorney’s office declined to comment on Salpeter's defense plan.

Prosecutors have alleged Salpeter tried to carry out a "shakedown" of Tankleff over three years while trying to get more money for investigative services he provided years ago.

The defendant threatened to physically harm Tankleff, now an attorney, and destroy his reputation — including by saying publicly he thought he’d made a mistake and Tankleff had killed his parents, according to the district attorney’s office.

Salpeter sent "chilling" emails and voicemails to Tankleff asking for sums of money that included $100,000 and $200,000, prosecutors said.

Tankleff served 17 years in prison following his conviction in the 1988 slayings of his parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, in the family’s Belle Terre home.

At age 17, Tankleff had confessed to the crime during police questioning, but then recanted the next day and accused a business associate of his father’s in the slayings.

From prison in 2000, Tankleff asked Salpeter to do some work on his case for free, Newsday previously reported. Tankleff was serving a sentence of 50 years to life behind bars.

Salpeter then found evidence that men connected to Seymour Tankleff's business associate — who owed the father more than $500,000 — could have committed the crime. A Suffolk judge disagreed, but an appellate court set aside the son’s conviction in 2008 and Suffolk prosecutors declined to retry him.

Liotti said after Salpeter’s arraignment last month that Salpeter got $5,000 for his work on the case and Tankleff and his lawyers "got millions" after Salpeter "was instrumental in breaking the Tankleff case wide open."

Tankleff said last month he was "profoundly grateful" for Salpeter’s efforts but "what transpired over the past several years was not acceptable and had to stop."

Liotti also has filed a notice of claim against Nassau County and the Nassau district attorney for Salpeter alleging wrongful arrest, wrongful prosecution and abuse of process.

It alleges in part that Tankleff and Bruce Barket — Tankleff’s former attorney — wrongfully caused Salpeter "to be arrested and prosecuted for crimes which he did not commit."

Barket said the notice of claim is "legally and factually frivolous" and "a joke," while calling the criminal case against Salpeter "tragic and sad."

The Garden City attorney also said in an interview that he and Salpeter had been colleagues who worked on numerous cases together in the last 25 years.

"Nobody wanted to see this happen to him," Barket added of the private investigator's indictment.

The district attorney’s office referred a request for comment on the notice of claim to the county attorney’s office before a spokesman said Nassau officials don’t comment on current or anticipated litigation.

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