A Suffolk judge sentenced former county lawmaker William Spencer to three years probation Thursday in Riverhead, wrapping up a plea deal that dismissed his felony record related to a 2020 arrest for trying to swap opioid pills for sex.
State Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins credited Spencer with the year of probation the minister and suspended physician has already served, which means he will be under the supervision of the Suffolk Department of Probation for two years.
“You have paid a steep, steep price for your demons,” Collins told Spencer before sentencing. “However, you did take advantage of vulnerable people.”
Suffolk prosecutors alleged that Spencer, 56, tried to trade oxycodone pills for sexual favors with a woman in October 2020 he believed was a sex worker in what turned out to be a law enforcement sting operation. The Centerport resident pleaded guilty in September 2022 to a felony charge of tampering with public records and a misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute. His license to practice medicine was suspended.
WHAT TO KNOW
- A judge sentenced former Suffolk County lawmaker William Spencer to three years probation Thursday related to a 2020 arrest for trying to swap opioid pills for sex.
- Spencer, a Democrat, had been the legislative majority leader and chairman of the Health Committee.
- His license to practice medicine was suspended but Spencer said he will seek to have it reinstated.
“I stand before you today with a heavy heart, burdened by the weight of my actions and their consequences,” Spencer told Collins. “It is with sincere remorse and humility that I offer this public statement of contrition."
Spencer added: “I would like to extend my deepest apologies to anyone who was affected by my actions, and I apologize to my beloved family, friends, and constituents. I take full responsibility for my conduct. I am aware of the disappointment that I have caused my community, and for that, I am truly sorry.”
Under the plea deal with Suffolk County prosecutors, the longtime lawmaker had to serve a 6-month jail sentence during a year of interim probation. The agreement required Spencer to undergo mental health treatment and perform 420 hours of community service. He was also barred from reapplying for a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe drugs.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the felony plea if Spencer, a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist, successfully finished his probation.
Retired Suffolk Judge Gerard Asher, speaking to Collins on Spencer’s behalf, acknowledged that the former lawmaker disgraced himself but told the judge he deserved a shot at redemption.
“Dr. Spencer is well educated and has already proved that he has made a positive difference in people’s lives and in society,” Asher said. “He has lived up to his obligations of the disposition and has shown remorse. I ask the court to give Dr. Spencer an opportunity for a second chance.”
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 on Oct. 20, 2020. Spencer also had a loaded gun, but prosecutors said he had a permit allowing him to take the weapon to and from work.
Spencer, a Democrat, was the legislative majority leader, chairman of the Health Committee and someone known in the halls of the legislature as "Doc." At the time of his arrest, he.held a post on the county’s heroin and opiate epidemic advisory panel.
He resigned from those leadership positions but served more than a year as a Suffolk legislator while the criminal charges were pending.
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-Suffolk 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 later admitted 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 said 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.
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.
Spencer said he will seek to get his medical license reinstated.
“I hope nobody asks me about that,” a skeptical Collins told the suspended pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist.