A federal judge delayed the scheduled June sentencing of former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and a former chief aide for covering up the beating of a handcuffed prisoner, due to limitations on court proceedings and other legal issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack ordered the delay Thursday without specifying a new sentencing date at the request of attorneys for Spota and his co-defendant, Christopher McPartland. Their sentencing had been scheduled for June 25.
Federal prosecutors also joined in the defense motion.
Both Spota and McPartland had asked the judge to set a new date for later in the summer, when the coronavirus crisis had abated and the courts were fully open. The defendants had requested their sentencing be in person, instead of online.
“As the Court is well aware, sentencing in criminal matters in this district are generally not proceeding as scheduled, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting limitations on in-court proceedings,” Spota’s attorney, Alan Vinegrad, wrote to Azrack on Wednesday. Vinegrad noted an administrative order issued by the Eastern District in March stating that felony sentencing “cannot be conducted in person without seriously jeopardizing public health and safety.”
Federal court proceedings conducted during the pandemic are usually done by videoconferencing or telephone.
Vinegrad also wrote that the defendants “for completely understandable reasons” have not yet received their presentencing reports from the federal probation service and would like additional time to go over them and respond.
Those reports usually includes a recommendation as to the sentence defendants should receive. Judges, though, are not bound to follow it.
Spota and McPartland have also filed motions with Azrack to have their convictions thrown out and get a new trial.
This is the second time that the sentencings of Spota and McPartland have been delayed. The sentencings had been scheduled originally for April 30 but were moved to June at Vinegrad’s request. Vinegrad said he was working on a civil trial until early May and wished for extra “time to prepare a substantial sentencing submission on Mr. Spota’s behalf.”
In December, Spota, 78, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 54, of Northport, were convicted on all four counts they had been charged with for taking part in the cover-up of the 2012 beating of a handcuffed prisoner by the district attorney’s protégé, former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke.
The counts included conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and accessories to the deprivation of civil rights.
Spota and McPartland both theoretically face up to 20 years in federal prison, but most likely would get much less under federal sentencing guidelines.
Burke himself has completed a sentence of 46 months in federal prison, after conviction for obstruction of justice and violating the civil rights of the prisoner, Christopher Loeb.
Neither Spota’s attorney Vinegrad, nor McPartland’s, Larry Krantz, could be reached for comment.
John Marzulli, the spokesman for Eastern District prosecutors, declined to comment.