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Feds, defense clash over sentencing date for ex-Suffolk DA Spota

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota walks

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota walks from federal court in Central Islip Oct. 25, 2017. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys are clashing over whether a federal judge should set a date for the already twice-delayed sentencings of former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and a key aide at a time when court proceedings are still limited because of the coronavirus.

Spota and the former head of his anti-corruption unit, Christopher McPartland, were both convicted in December for their roles in the cover-up of the beating of a prisoner by former Suffolk police Chief James Burke.

The prosecutors say the defense attorneys have received the key presentencing documents — the sentences confidentially recommended for Spota and McPartland by the federal probation department — and suggest a November date. Judges do not have to follow the department recommendations but often use them for guidance.

Defense attorneys say the sentencing date should be at the discretion of U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack because the reopening of federal court proceedings is still uncertain, and the judge has not yet ruled on defense motions to throw out the convictions of the two men and grant them new trials.

The disagreement over sentencing dates occurred on Tuesday in filings in federal court in Central Islip. Prosecutors submitted their request to Azrack to set November 18 as the sentencing date, followed by a negative response by defense attorneys.

“The government is hopeful that in-person sentencing will be feasible by mid-November, as the restrictions driven by the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly begin to lessen,” wrote Eastern District Assistant United States Attorneys Nicole Boeckmann, Lara Treinis Gatz, Justina Geraci and Michael Maffei.

The prosecutors added, though, that “in the unlikely event that this is not the case, we would consent to a further adjournment until in-person sentencings may safely occur.”

In their response, Larry Krantz, McPartland’s attorney, and Alan Vinegrad, Spota’s attorney, said they wanted to wait for the judge to decide on a new trial and they noted that in May Azrack had postponed the June 25 sentencing date without a new date because, during the pandemic, “ in-person appearances for sentencing are prohibited in this district for the foreseeable future.”

The May postponement was the second sentencing delay in the case. The original sentencing date was April 30 but that was moved to June at Vinegrad’s request because he was working on a civil trial in May and he wanted time “to prepare a substantial sentencing submission on Mr. Spota’s behalf.” 

Spota, 78, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 54, of Northport, were convicted in December of helping orchestrate the cover-up of the 2012 beating of a suspect in handcuffs by Burke, Spota’s protégé.

Among the counts were conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and accessories to the deprivation of civil rights.

When sentenced, both Spota and McPartland theoretically face up to 20 years in federal prison, but would probably get much less under federal guidelines.

Both Eastern District spokesman John Marzulli and McPartland’s attorney Krantz declined to comment. Spota’s attorney Vinegrad did not return calls for comment.

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