Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said Tuesday his office is reviewing his disgraced predecessor Thomas Spota’s 2014 prosecution of a former Suffolk detective for leaking information to Newsday, a case that a federal judge said was inspired by Spota's "retaliatory motives."
Former Suffolk Police Det. John Oliva pleaded guilty in 2014 to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct and was sentenced to a conditional discharge and forced to retire from the police department.
"It’s been a long time coming," Oliva said of Sini's review. He said he was hopeful Sini’s action would clear his record. "It means everything," said Oliva.
Spota, who along with his top aide Christopher McPartland was sentenced by Judge Joan M. Azrack to five years in prison Tuesday for his involvement in a cover-up of a prisoner assault at the hands of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke.
At Spota’s sentencing, which Oliva attended, Azrack said "retaliatory motives" had played a role in Oliva’s prosecution.
Sini, in an interview, said his office’s Conviction Integrity Bureau opened an investigation into Oliva’s conviction, reviewing the entire case file, including a wiretap Spota’s office placed on Oliva’s phone as part of the leak investigation. Sini said testimony at the trial of Spota and McPartland as well as comments by the presiding judge are also being reviewed.
"We’ve since invited Mr. Oliva, through counsel, to submit an application with the Conviction Integrity Bureau," said Sini. "We will consider that in totality with all the other evidence and we’ll make a determination of whether or not Mr. Oliva is due relief," such as possibly vacating his conviction.
Sini said he’ll make the final decision.
Oliva's attorney Bruce Barket said he planned to file an application soon and was pleased that Sini was giving the case a second look.
"It’s clear that Det. Oliva was targeted and treated unfairly," said Barket. "He was professionally assassinated to send a message not to cross Spota and Burke."
At the time of the prosecution, Spota said Oliva's actions had jeopardized officers closing in on two robbery suspects, later arrested and charged.
But at Spota and McPartland’s 2019 federal corruption trial, witnesses questioned the assertion that Oliva was investigated because he had endangered officers.
Witnesses said that Spota and McPartland targeted Oliva for leaking the information — widely considered a minor transgression that is against official police department policy but rarely handled as a criminal matter — after Burke removed Oliva and another Suffolk detective from a joint federal-local anti-gang task force.
Oliva has said he shared the information to expose crimes that were being hidden from the public by the police department. Burke labeled Oliva an "enemy," witnesses said, and McPartland and Spota persuaded a judge to authorize a wiretap of Oliva’s cellphone for three months to monitor his conversations.
Prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz, in court Tuesday, called Oliva a "once very highly-regarded detective" who became an enemy of Burke and "thus was targeted for investigation and prosecution by Spota and McPartland."
"They talked about how Oliva’s career and reputation were destroyed for doing something that they perceived and knew that many people, including the defendants regularly did — leak information to the press — but that Oliva got the full Spota-McPartland treatment because he crossed Burke," Treinis Gatz said. "This episode created a climate of abject fear within the ranks of the SCPD."