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Defense lawyer gets 30 months in prison for bribing witness, Feds say

Attorney John Scarpa Jr., seen here in March

Attorney John Scarpa Jr., seen here in March 2015, was convicted in a four-day trial in May. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A Queens-based defense attorney was sentenced to 30 months in prison Monday for bribing a witness to manipulate his testimony for the benefit of his client, a Crips gang member who was convicted of double murder in 2015, federal officials said.

Lawyer John Scarpa Jr., 66, of Hauppauge, was also fined $10,000 in federal court in Brooklyn on Monday by U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon, said Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York Office.

Scarpa, who has worked in three district attorney’s offices in the metropolitan area, was convicted in a four-day trial in May, officials said. He has been practicing law in New York since 1982 and entered private practice in 2003, officials said.

A government wiretap was used to foil the plot, officials said.

“As a defense attorney and former prosecutor, Scarpa was sworn to uphold the law he so egregiously subverted,” Donoghue said in a statement. “Scarpa went from practicing law to breaking the law and will now pay a price for his crime.”

 Scarpa’s attorney, Thomas Kenniff, said Monday night there will “absolutely” be an appeal.

“No sentence is the right sentence when your client feels he was wrongfully convicted,” he said.

The bribe hatched by Scarpa and his assistant Charles Gallman of Queens was meant to benefit Scarpa’s client, Reginald Ross, a Crips leader from Yaphank  who was eventually convicted in Suffolk Supreme Court of the 2010 murders of John Williams and Raymond Hirt, officials said.

Federal officials said Scarpa plotted with co-conspirator Gallman to bribe convicted murderer Luis Cherry so that Cherry would claim it was only he who killed Williams. Cherry had pleaded guilty to participating in Williams’ murder, officials said.

Officials said the investigation into Scarpa stemmed from a Queens County investigation of witness bribery and case-fixing involving Gallman. His cellphone was wiretapped in 2014 and 2015, officials said.

After Gallman visited Cherry in prison, according to a wiretap quoted by the government, he told Scarpa, “Anything we need, he’s willing. Whichever way you wanna play it, he’s willing.”

According to Scarpa’s indictment, Scarpa then called Cherry as a defense witness and led him through false testimony in which he said he committed the Williams murder alone.

Cherry is serving a more than 60-year prison sentence. The bribe was meant to counter perceptions that he had ratted on Ross to improve his status in prison, officials said. Gallman and Scarpa also promised to help Cherry with his appeal in his conviction for killing Williams .

Gallman was sentenced in March to three years in prison for his role in the bribery case, federal officials said.

Kenniff said Scarpa’s surrender date to begin his sentence is Jan. 3.

Monday was a “very difficult moment for Mr. Scarpa and his family,” Kenniff said.

Scarpa hopes the public recognizes his honorable work as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, and that the conviction does not define his legal career, Kenniff said.

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