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Spota, McPartland face 57 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, judge rules

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, left,

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, left, and Christopher McPartland, one of Spota's former top aide, arrive at federal court in Central Islip in June. Credit: James Carbone

The federal judge scheduled to sentence former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and his top aide on corruption charges next week said in a new ruling that both defendants are facing 57 to 71 months in prison.

Spota and Christopher McPartland, who led the district attorney’s public corruption unit, were convicted in December 2019 of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of a prisoner’s civil rights by orchestrating a cover-up of a handcuffed prisoner in a police precinct in 2012.

U.S. District Court Judge Joan M. Azrack, in a Wednesday order, rejected defense arguments for shorter sentences for both defendants after federal prosecutors sought enhanced sentences of eight years in prison for each defendant. The defense argued — among other things — that the case relied heavily on the testimony of the prosecution's star witness, James Hickey, a retired Suffolk police lieutenant who had headed the department’s criminal intelligence unit.

In making her finding, Azrack said she relied on trial testimony and other materials to rule that "I find Hickey’s testimony to be credible and reliable."

Spota's lawyer, Alan Vinegrad, could not be reached for comment immediately. Larry Krantz, McPartland's attorney, declined to comment.

Both defense attorneys had also objected to the enhanced sentencing guidelines arguing — among other things — that it was former Suffolk Chief of the Department James Burke who orchestrated the cover-up.

But the judge said in her filing that both Spota and McPartland were "organizer(s) or leader(s) of a criminal activity" that also involved more people.

"While Burke was clearly one leader of the criminal activity, a criminal activity can have multiple leaders and organizers," Azrack wrote. "Spota’s position as District Attorney and McPartland’s high-level position in the D.A.’s office are relevant to, but not dispositive of, this enhancement."

During closing argument at the trial, prosecutors argued that Spota was the "CEO" of the conspiracy while McPartland, Spota’s former right-hand man, was the scheme’s "chief operating officer" as they broke the law they were supposed to enforce.

But the defense had said at trial that Spota, 79, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 55, of Northport, couldn’t have tried to conceal Burke’s guilt because the former police chief never confessed to them before admitting his crimes in February 2016 in federal court.

Burke served most of a 46-month prison sentence before his release to home confinement.

Christopher Loeb’s assault at the Fourth Precinct in Hauppauge on Dec. 14, 2012, happened hours after the now-recovering heroin addict broke into Burke’s department vehicle in St. James and stole a Police Athletic League duffel bag.

The duffel, which prosecutors dubbed Burke’s "party bag," had items inside it that included his gun belt, ammunition, a box of cigars, police union cards, sex toys, pornography and Viagra, testimony showed.

Hickey testified during the trial that he was a middleman in the conspiracy who ensured the silence of three of his detectives who had taken part in Loeb’s beating with Burke.

Hickey tied the defendants directly to the conspiracy with testimony that included his recall of a June 2015 meeting in Spota’s office that took place after federal officials relaunched a probe into Loeb’s beating after their initial investigation fell flat in 2013.

The defense portrayed Hickey as a mentally unstable drunk and serial philanderer who lied repeatedly to his wife and committed perjury years ago when testifying in a burglary case that a Suffolk judge threw out.

Earlier this year, prosecutors have argued that Spota and McPartland, should each spend 8 years in prison — an upward deviation from the guidelines.

Prosecutors wrote in court papers that a sentence within the guidelines would not "adequately capture nor appropriately punish the defendants."

Defense attorneys for the pair have said their clients should receive no jail time — but home confinement and community service. Their sentencings have been postponed multiple times.

The defense argued their clients had already received harsh punishments in the form of embarrassment and the inability to practice law. Both have been stripped of their law licenses.

Spota and McPartland are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Central Islip.

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