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Federal judge in Spota-McPartland criminal case said she would unseal some court records

Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota leaves federal

Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota leaves federal court in Central Islip after he was found guilty of felony charges on Dec. 17, 2019. Credit: Barry Sloan

The federal judge who presided over the criminal case of former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said Wednesday that she would unseal a number of the records that were not made public during the trial, including material relating to former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke.

The Burke material, U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack said, included the Suffolk police Internal Affairs Bureau’s files on investigations into alleged misconduct by the former chief, as well as an anonymous December 2011 letter accusing Burke of misconduct and then- district attorney Spota’s response to the accusations against his longtime protégé.

During the trial, which resulted in December of 2019 in the convictions of Spota and a key aide, Christopher McPartland, for helping orchestrate the coverup of Burke’s beating of a handcuffed prisoner at at a precinct, Azrack had sealed some of the material that either the defense or prosecution had wanted to introduce.

Spota and McPartland were convicted of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, witness tampering and civil rights violations. They were scheduled to be sentenced on March 24, but Azrack on Wednesday re-scheduled their sentencings for June 9, beginning at 2 p.m.

Burke, who resigned from the force, pleaded guilty in 2016 to violating the civil rights of Christopher Loeb, of Smithtown, and then orchestrating a departmental cover-up of the crime. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison and was released after serving the bulk of his sentence.

Azrack said she sealed the files during the Spota trial on a number of grounds, including that the material was either irrelevant or too prejudicial.

In making some of the sealed material public now over objections, in some instances by either federal prosecutors or defense attorneys or both, the judge took into account the public’s right to know versus the right of privacy of the person named in the material, and how much of the material is already publicly known.

The judge did not say when she would unseal the material.

Azrack noted that "Burke has little, if any privacy interests in these IAB documents. These IAB complaints do not concern the purported conduct of an ordinary police officer. Rather, they concern allegations against the former Chief of Department, who pled guilty to federal charges and served a substantial prison sentence."

Burke’s attorney, John Meringolo, said in a statement: "That is absolutely unnecessary for the judge to do at this point in time. Mr. Burke has moved on with his life and he has put all of this in his past."

Azrack said she would also unseal testimony concerning alcohol consumption by people involved in the trial, but whom she did not identify in her ruling.

Azrack declined to unseal material in four areas, including the grand jury testimony of one unnamed witness who did not testify at the trial; material about an unnamed third party that was not used in the trial; one item of alleged misconduct by an otherwise unidentified person that the government eventually did not use; and McPartland’s financial situation, which enabled him to get government-paid attorneys.

Larry Krantz, McPartland’s attorney, declined to comment, as did John Marzulli, the spokesman for Eastern District federal prosecutors

Spota’s attorney, Alan Vinegrad, could not be reached immediately for comment.

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