Former Suffolk County Legis. William Spencer went to jail Friday after striking a plea deal in connection with his arrest for allegedly trying to swap opioid pills for sex that could spare the physician and minister from a felony record.
Spencer, 55, of Centerport, pleaded guilty in a Riverhead court to a felony charge of tampering with public records and a misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute.
The former veteran lawmaker and Democrat served a decade on Suffolk’s governing body before deciding not to seek reelection last year in the aftermath his arrest on Oct. 20, 2020, in a law enforcement sting operation.
Suffolk prosecutors had alleged Spencer tried to trade oxycodone pills for sexual favors with a woman he believed was a sex worker.
Under the plea deal, Spencer will serve a 6-month jail sentence during a year of interim probation.
Upon his release, he'll have to do 420 hours of community service while still on his initial probation term, which includes what officials call mental health conditions.
He also is not allowed to reapply for a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe drugs.
If the pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist successfully finishes that probation term, prosecutors will agree to dismiss his felony plea.
Under the deal, a judge then will sentence Spencer to two years of probation, also including mental health conditions, for the misdemeanor.
After the plea, State Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins remanded Spencer to jail immediately before court officers led him out in handcuffs. He is due back in court March 14.
"The benefit of this plea is that it gives Dr. Spencer a chance at redemption, a chance at him hopefully being able to return to society as a practicing physician and to resume the life he had before these terrible misdeeds," said Spencer's attorney, Anthony La Pinta.
"Six months of incarceration for anyone is not an easy task to undertake, especially a person of Dr. Spencer's status, a prominent physician, a elected official," he added.
Spencer was the legislative majority leader whom colleagues called “Doc,” chairman of the legislature’s Health Committee and held a post on the county’s heroin and opiate epidemic advisory panel at the time of his arrest.
He resigned from those leadership positions but served more than a year as a Suffolk legislator while criminal charges were pending against him.
"This is a sad day. Dr. Spencer admitted to violating the laws he swore to uphold as an elected official and wasting police resources by lying in a sworn, written statement," Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney said in a statement Friday.
"No one is above the law, including elected officials who engage in criminal conduct," he added.
"Dr. Spencer's plea emphasizes the DEA's commitment to investigating people and organizations whose criminal actions threaten public safety and public health, no matter their profession," Frank Tarentino III, who leads the DEA's New York division, said in a Friday statement.
Prosecutors had alleged Spencer had a long-standing relationship with a sex worker and sent her a text that said, “Tonight we trade” — proposing they swap oxycodone for sex.
Prosecutors said Spencer didn’t realize the woman, who occasionally worked as a police informant, had fatally overdosed on heroin in a Massapequa motel a month earlier.
Her phone was in the possession of a drug enforcement agent, who agreed to meet Spencer before the legislator drove to the rendezvous in his county car, according to authorities.
They said he had two oxycodone pills and a condom and was wearing medical scrubs at the time of his arrest. Spencer also had a loaded gun, but prosecutors said he had a permit allowing him to take the weapon to and from work.
The aunt of the young woman with whom authorities said Spencer thought he was meeting came to court Friday.
"This isn't a victimless crime, like maybe some people might think ... He was in a position to help her ... He was a doctor ... and, you know, was head of a heroin task force for God's sakes," said Charmaine De Rosa.
The case got more complicated after Spencer’s initial arrest on felony charges of third-degree sale of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Prosecutors said after Spencer’s indictment a year later that he also had lied to investigators in a statement he gave Suffolk police after first contacting then-Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.
Authorities said Spencer gave the statement three months before his arrest, reporting he was the target of an extortion plot by someone purporting to be a pimp.
In the statement, Spencer said in part: “I have not sought the services of prostitutes or call girls.” He admitted Friday that was a lie.
Authorities said Spencer also told police he had been in his medical office when he got menacing text messages, including images of severed heads.
The sender claimed Spencer had wasted “one of my girls’ time who provides sexual services” and that his home and family were being watched, according to his statement.
Online court records show a grand jury indicted him in October 2021 on two drug counts, along with charges of offering a false instrument for filing, falsifying business records, making a false sworn statement, perjury, tampering with public records and both attempting to and patronizing a prostitute.
La Pinta said previously that the physician voluntarily agreed not to practice medicine until the criminal case was resolved. He said Friday that Spencer's medical license was suspended.
At the time of his arrest, Spencer had his own private practice, Long Island Otolaryngology and Pediatric Airway, in Huntington.
He is the former president of the Suffolk County Medical Society and his legislative biography said he was ordained in ministry in 1993 by the Connecticut Missionary Baptist Association.