Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and his ex-aide, Christopher McPartland, have asked the judge who sentenced them both to 5 years in prison for corruption convictions to let them stay free as they pursue appeals.
U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack meted out the punishments last month, ordering McPartland to surrender to prison officials by Nov. 10 and Spota to do the same by Dec. 10.
But attorneys for the defendants said in court filings Monday that bail should be granted because the appeals from Spota and McPartland will present "substantial" questions of law that, if decided in the defense’s favor, will result in a reversal or new trial.
The defense attorneys also said Spota, 80, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 55, of Northport, should remain out of prison while pursuing appeals of their convictions and sentences because they aren’t flight risks or a danger to the community and because their appeals aren't for the purposes of a delay.
"There is every reason to find that Mr. Spota’s appeal is a genuine and substantial challenge to several aspects of his conviction that he sincerely believes warrant a new trial," said a motion from Spota’s team.
The filing added: "All he asks is the opportunity to have those challenges resolved, so he will know with certainty whether or not he must serve what will surely be an unusually harsh and medically risky term of imprisonment."
A jury in 2019 convicted Spota and McPartland, who had headed Spota’s anti-corruption unit, of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of prisoner Christopher Loeb’s civil rights.
By their verdict, jurors found the now-former prosecutors orchestrated a cover-up of Loeb’s 2012 beating in a Suffolk police precinct that James Burke, who was then Suffolk police chief, carried out with three detectives.
The assault happened hours after Loeb, then a heroin addict, stole a duffel bag from Burke’s department vehicle that had items inside it that included his gun belt, ammunition, Viagra, sex toys and pornography.
Spota's attorneys have argued in the pending motion that one of the "errors" that "unfairly tilted the balance in favor of the government" during the trial was the prosecution's "copious, inflammatory, and irrelevant evidence of bad acts by Mr. Burke." The defense claims the evidence invited the convictions of Spota and McPartland based on "guilt by association."
Spota's motion also says the prosecution "repeatedly elicited inflammatory testimony from police officers" that they feared retaliation from Burke and Spota if they cooperated with federal investigators. The defense filing calls such testimony "utterly irrelevant," saying it frequently included "unsupported and inadmissible speculation."
The prosecution also slandered Spota's former chief assistant prosecutor, Emily Constant, according to Spota's defense team. Their filing says that while Constant provided "powerful testimony vindicating Mr. Spota," the prosecution then accused Constant in its closing argument of "being complicit" in the cover-up of Loeb's assault.
McPartland's attorneys joined in arguments in Spota's motion on their client's behalf, while also saying in a separate memo supporting McPartland's bid to remain free that to deny the former anti-corruption chief bail pending his appeal "would be a grave injustice."
The court filing added that evidentiary rulings by the judge and how the government used them created "substantial issues on appeal which, if resolved in the defendants' favor, will likely result in reversal and a new trial."
The defense had claimed during the trial that there was no way Spota or McPartland tried to hide Burke's role in Loeb's beating because Burke never confessed to them before admitting his guilt in federal court. Burke served most of a 46-month prison sentence — before his release to a halfway house — after pleading guilty in 2016 to conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and the deprivation of Loeb's rights.
The defense also had attacked the credibility of the government's chief witness, retired police Lt. James Hickey, portraying him as a mentally unstable drunk and serial philanderer who previously had committed perjury.
But the prosecution told jurors that Spota was the "CEO" of the conspiracy, while McPartland was the scheme's "chief operating officer" as they broke the law they were supposed to uphold.
Spota's lead attorney, Alan Vinegrad, didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday. McPartland's lead attorney, Larry Krantz, declined to comment.
A spokesman for the Eastern District U.S. attorney's office also declined to comment Tuesday on the defense filings. Court records show the judge has given prosecutors until Sept. 20 to respond before she later issues a ruling.