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Spota, McPartland should not go to prison over Burke cover-up, court papers say

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, left,

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, left, and former Spota aide Christopher McPartland. Credit: Newsday File/Barry Sloan/James Carbone

Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and a chief aide are pleading to avoid prison for their roles in covering up the beating of a prisoner by the county's ex-police chief, James Burke.

Spota, the longest serving Suffolk district attorney who was at the helm of the office for 16 years and was a political as well as law enforcement power, is "a shattered man," his attorneys wrote in a presentencing memorandum to U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack in federal court in Central Islip.

Their defense attorneys argue that Spota and Christopher McPartland, Spota's head of his anti-corruption unit, have already suffered devastating consequences.

Spota's attorneys wrote that a prison term would amount to a "death sentence" for the former district attorney, and called Spota's involvement minimal.

"The humiliation he has suffered these past several years will also never abate" the Spota sentencing memorandum says. "Tom’s name will forever be found in news stories involving sex toys and pornography, and he will live with the knowledge that his wife and children, and many others close to him, suffered for years alongside him as these proceedings continued. For the rest of his life, Tom will struggle with the shame and regret he feels over the relationship that brought him to this place."

The attorneys blamed at least one person for Spota's troubles.

"In this life well-lived, there was a blind spot," and that blind spot was James Burke, Spota’s attorneys wrote.

McPartland's lawyers also asked for mercy: "We respectfully submit that given his otherwise unblemished life, the catastrophic collateral consequences he has already suffered and will continue to endure, the sentences given and to be given to other defendants, and the unduly harsh conditions of confinement created by the pandemic, a non-custodial sentence is warranted and appropriate."

The defense attorneys also note that Spota and McPartland have lost their legal careers since both were disbarred when they were convicted. Imprisonment, defense attorneys say, would subject both to a high risk of getting the coronavirus.

The defense attorneys argued that Spota and McPartland should be sentenced to home confinement and to serve community service.

"Chris has lost almost everything: his reputation, his feeling of self-worth; his job; his ability to practice law; his ability to earn a living, and his life savings," McPartland's sentencing memorandum says..."Since 2018, he has been reduced to working as a sales clerk in a liquor store (the only place he has been able to find work) and presently earns $16 an hour. The fallout has been life changing and catastrophic, and he has endured this brutal punishment for five years."

Eastern District federal prosecutors are scheduled to respond to the arguments by Spota, McPartland and their attorneys in a few weeks.

The papers filed over the weekend are also in response to a probation department recommendation that Spota gets 57 to 71 months in prison and that McPartland is sentenced to 46 to 57 months in prison.

But Azrack will make the final determination of sentencing.

Spota and McPartland were convicted in December of 2019 of helping to orchestrate the concealment of the beating of a shackled prisoner by Burke, who was Spota’s longtime protégé.

A jury found each guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and civil rights violations.

Burke, who resigned from the Suffolk Department, pleaded guilty in 2016 to violating the civil rights of the prisoner he assaulted, Christopher Loeb, of Smithtown, for stealing — among other things — a gym bag containing sex toys and porn. The former chief was sentenced to 46 months in prison and was released to home confinement after serving most of his sentence.

Spota and McPartland both say they respect the jury verdict, but they also argued it was based on what was they called "dubious" testimony of one key government witness, former head of the Suffolk Police intelligence unit, James Hickey.

"This seems too slender and shaky a reed on which to up end and destroy Chris’s life — particularly those aspects that were alleged at trial but had not surfaced in four years of government interviews," the papers say.

It was Burke who was the principal leader and actor in the scheme, the court papers say, adding "The key meeting in the coverup that Hickey alleges "was initiated and organized by Mr. Burke, not Tom."

The papers describe in detail a long relationship between the top prosecutor and the police chief. Spota first met Burke when he was a young Suffolk prosecutor and the then teenage Burke was a witness in the murder of a 13-year-old boy named John Pius, the papers say.

"The Court has heard much evidence of Tom’s relationship with Mr. Burke in the succeeding years, during which Tom became a professional father figure of sorts to him," Spota’s attorneys say.

In addition to sentencing memoranda, the filings contain hundreds of letters in support of leniency for Spota and McPartland from family, friends and former associates.

Attorneys for Spota did not return requests for comment. Larry Krantz, McPartland’s attorney, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Eastern District federal prosecutors, John Marzulli, declined to comment.

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