Attorneys for ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and a former top aide argued Wednesday against enhancements to federal guidelines that could mean harsher punishments when a judge sentences the ex-prosecutors on corruption charges in August.
A jury in 2019 convicted Spota and Christopher McPartland, who had led the district attorney’s anti-corruption unit, of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of a prisoner’s civil rights.
The U.S. attorney’s office is seeking eight-year prison sentences for both Spota, 79, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 55, of Northport, after their convictions for trying to conceal then-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s beating of handcuffed burglary suspect Christopher Loeb.
Such sentences would be above what probation officials previously recommended — 57 to 71 months in prison for Spota and 46 to 57 months for McPartland.
Defense attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack to sentence their clients to home confinement and community service.
She held a hearing Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip to listen to arguments — which both sides previously laid out in court papers — ahead of the defendants' Aug. 10 sentencings.
Spota's attorney, Alan Vinegrad, said Wednesday that prosecutors "cannot meet their burden" of showing that any enhancements should apply.
McPartland's attorney, Larry Krantz, told Azrack "the government has exaggerated the facts" when arguing for enhancements.
But a team of federal prosecutors insisted Wednesday there were multiple enhancements the judge should apply when making her sentencing decision. They cited "substantial interference with the administration of justice," and that the crimes were "extensive in scope, planning or preparation" and involved abuse of "positions of trust" as those enhancements.
"These two defendants, by their conduct, specifically interfered with the government's investigations both in 2013 and 2015," prosecutor Nicole Boeckmann said, referring to grand jury probes of a cover-up of Loeb's beating.
Prosecutor Michael Maffei said the defendants' actions were "clearly extensive in scope," adding: "This was the D.A. and the head of government corruption doing the exact opposite of their jobs to protect a criminal for two years."
Federal prosecutors also argued in a sentencing memo that the defendants, who haven't accepted responsibility for their actions, deserve more time in prison than sentencing guidelines recommend because of "the need for deterrence" and the "egregiousness" of their actions.
In court papers, federal prosecutors also drew a comparison to Burke’s sentencing in 2016 to 46 months in prison after a guilty plea, saying Burke wasn’t a prosecutor and the defendants’ motivation was "even more nefarious" than his.
While Burke orchestrated the cover-up to save himself from prosecution and keep his job, Spota and McPartland’s crimes "were designed to maintain a power structure that they had worked hard, for years, to create" and were committed "because they truly believed that they were above the law," the U.S. attorney's office's filing also said.
Spota’s lawyers said in part in court papers there was "an absence of credible evidence that Tom organized or led the conspiracy." Vinegrad also said Wednesday that Spota's former position as Suffolk's top law enforcement official by itself "is not an appropriate basis" to impose any enhancement.
Spota's defense team argued in court papers that he is "a shattered man" whose age, declining health and record of public service support a no-prison sentence.
McPartland's defense team portrayed him in court papers as having "far lower" culpability than Burke, and said McPartland has lost his reputation, life savings and law license.
"The leader of this conspiracy was plainly James Burke," Krantz said Wednesday.
Prosecutors also asked the judge Wednesday to consider what they described as other examples of the defendants' "flagrant abuse of authority" when deciding their sentences.
Their examples included an alleged 2011 crash in which prosecutors said Burke was drunk and hit McPartland's county vehicle before neither reported the crash and Burke paid cash for repairs arranged by a third party who was told not to speak about the accident.
Prosecutors also cited a wiretap of ex-Suffolk police Det. John Oliva, saying it wasn't intended only to see if the detective was leaking information to the media, but also to gain information about the federal probe into Burke's assault of Loeb.
The defense countered Wednesday that the wiretap of Oliva — who pleaded guilty to official misconduct — was legal and no laws were broken in connection with the alleged 2011 crash.
Spota and McPartland, their attorneys, and a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment after court Wednesday.