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Defense, prosecution spar on bid for new trial for Spota, top aide

Former Suffolk DA Thomas Spota, left, and former

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

Federal prosecutors have opposed a new trial for former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and a chief aide, saying defense attorneys made the same arguments unsuccessfully to the jury that convicted the two of covering up the beating of a prisoner.

Eastern District prosecutors late Friday responded to a motion for a new trial, or, at least, an evidentiary hearing, filed with U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack in February on behalf of Spota, 78, of Mt.Sinai,  and co-defendant Christopher McPartland, 54, of Northport, the former head of the DA’s anti-corruption unit.

An evidentiary hearing, concerning the accuracy of testimony during the trial of Spota and McPartland, could theoretically lead to a ruling on whether a new trial is warranted.   

Spota and McPartland were convicted in December in federal court in Central Islip of helping orchestrate the coverup of the beating of a prisoner by Spota’s longtime protégé, former Suffolk police chief James Burke. The jury deliberated for only about seven hours, following a six-week trial.

The jury’s verdict included convictions on all the counts in the indictments of both defendants, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of justice.  Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for the beating of the prisoner, Christopher Loeb, in a police precinct,  after Loeb's arrest for stealing Burke's duffle bag out of his official car.

The defense attorneys, Alan Vinegrad for Spota, and Larry Krantz for McPartland, had argued in their February motion that the government’s case rested on the testimony of former Suffolk police lieutenant James Hickey. The defense contended prosecutors knew or should have known Hickey was giving some false testimony.

The principal argument for a new trial revolved around three matters which Hickey testified to but which were not reflected in notes investigators took during his 17 governmental debriefings, according to Spota and McPartland’s attorneys.

If Hickey was found to have given false testimony on some subject, the defense argues his overall testimony should be discredited.

The three matters were: Hickey’s testimony about a 2013 meeting in which he, McPartland, and Burke, created a story contradicting Loeb’s account of the assault by the former police chief; when Hickey disclosed to the government that he had suffered from hallucinations while hospitalized in 2015;  and when the government investigated his medical treatment after the hospitalization.

Hickey told the truth throughout his testimony at the trial, federal prosecutors   Lara Treinis Gatz, Nicole Boeckmann, Justina Geraci and Michael Maffei, said in their motion opposing any new trial or hearing.

“[T]he defense vigorously attacked Hickey’s credibility on these very issues  at trial," the prosecutors wrote. Further, the defense could have called government investigators to undermine Hickey’s testimony, but did not do so, the prosecutors said.

In addition, the prosecutors said that if Hickey made a statement on the stand that is not in a debriefing note, it does not mean it is a lie.

And lastly, the prosecutors said, none of the defense arguments meet the very high standard that a judge overturning a jury verdict would require, as an appeals court has ruled,  ”whether letting [the] guilty verdict stand would be a manifest injustice.”  

Sentencing for Spota and McPartland is set for June. They each could theoretically face up to 20 years in prison, but would probably get much less under federal sentencing guidelines.

Vinegrad and Krantz could not be immediately reached for comment. John Marzulli, the spokesman for Eastern District prosecutors, declined to comment.

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