The overdose death of Brittany Wisniewski in 2020 led to a sprawling law enforcement investigation, including the arrest of Suffolk County Legis. William "Doc" Spencer. NewsdayTV's Sandra Peddie reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; File Footage

When Brittany Wisniewski died more than two years ago, investigators who had been working with her as an informant were left a clear, consistent road map into the criminal underworld: her cellphone.

Through the information stored in the phone, police and Drug Enforcement Agency agents tracked her contacts, activities and text messages to drug dealers and men who bought sex from her — not all of whom she revealed to investigators when she was alive.

Police obtained Wisniewski's iPhone password from a family member. Because there's no expectation of privacy in death, accessing information in the cellphone raised no legal issues, DEA Special Agent Scott Knox said.

The sprawling investigation that followed culminated in at least eight prosecutions, ensnaring a long-established drug ring in Harlem, a nurse practitioner and a popular doctor who also served as a Suffolk County legislator and member of the county’s opioid task force.

The doctor, pediatric otolaryngologist William Spencer, was released from the Suffolk County Jail on Tuesday. State Supreme Court Justice John Collins sentenced Spencer to six months in jail after he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of tampering with public records and a misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute. Spencer referred a request for an interview to his attorney, Anthony LaPinta, who declined to make Spencer available.

Investigators said Spencer traded two oxycodone pills for sex. Three months before his arrest, he reported to police that he was the target of an extortion attempt by someone purporting to be a pimp. In a statement to police, he said, “I have not sought the services of prostitutes or call girls.”

Wisniewski’s cellphone provided proof that the statement was a lie, which he later admitted in court.

"When we’re talking about the types of data that are on a smartphone, people would be shocked as to the depth of the data that is there. We’re talking about who you communicate with and when you communicate, what was said, where you go, where you travel, when you use the phone," said Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "It's like a personal diary that doesn't embellish or lie. The information on the phone is what it purports to be."

For the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s special drug task force targeting fentanyl — a highly dangerous drug — the cellphone provided an opportunity. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. Because it costs one-tenth of what heroin costs, dealers mix it with heroin to enhance the high. But because it's so potent, even the smallest amount can cause an overdose, making it a top priority of the DEA, investigators said.

“Fentanyl is the most dangerous illicit drug on the street today,” said Frank Tarentino, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York division.

Police found Wisniewski’s body at a Budget Inn Motel in Massapequa on Sept. 14, 2020. Alongside her body, there was a hypodermic needle and a cellphone.

Later that night, Knox said he obtained the cellphone password from Wisniewski's aunt and permission to access it. The last call from her phone occurred at 10:26 p.m. Sept. 13. It lasted 40 seconds. The call was to Donta Riddick, a 36-year-old man from West Babylon with a criminal history, according to court records.

Knox then looked at her text messages. She had been ordering heroin. Pretending to be Wisniewski, he texted Riddick and placed the same drug order. Riddick responded and agreed to meet at a Farmingdale gas station the next day, according to court documents.

There, DEA agents working with Nassau County Police Department Major Case Squad detectives arrested Riddick with two bags of fentanyl-laced heroin, the same type of drug that had caused Wisniewski's death.

Riddick’s criminal history started when he was 17. He had six prior felony convictions and nine misdemeanor convictions, and had served three prison sentences for drug-related crimes, court records show.

His case worked its way through the court system. On Jan. 28, 2022, on the eve of trial, Riddick pleaded guilty to possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute and acknowledged in court that he sold the drugs that caused Wisniewski’s death, according to court filings.

On Sept. 13, 2022 — two years to the date on which he sold Wisniewski the fatal drug combination — Federal District Court Judge Gary Brown sentenced Riddick to 16½ years in prison. “You get to go home in some time,” Brown told him. “The victim does not.”

Riddick apologized to Wisniewski’s family and vowed to change in prison.

Wisniewski was a sweet, spontaneous young woman who rescued animals and enrolled in a nursing school program, said her aunt, Charmaine DeRosa, 59, of Smithtown.

But early on, she faced challenges in a family with a history of substance abuse. Wisniewski was just 15 when her mother died of a drug overdose in the bedroom they shared, DeRosa said.

By then, Wisniewski was smoking marijuana. She also was meeting strangers online who introduced her to other drugs. The dealers were clever. They used cartoon ads on social media to get teenagers’ attention, DeRosa said.

After her mother’s death, two aunts took in Wisniewski and her younger brother, Sean Wisniewski. They tried hard to shield them from dangerous influences, but, “There’s so much to combat,” DeRosa said.

Wisniewski earned good grades at Commack High School and got a job at a burger place in East Northport when she was 16. But the pull of drugs was always there.

Sometimes, Wisniewski would stay out late and lie about where she was. Her sleep habits became erratic. Normally, her texts were always perfectly punctuated, but sometimes they’d be sloppy. The biggest tipoff was her eyes, which would become glazed over, even when she seemed sober, the aunt said.

“I always look in the eyes,” DeRosa said.

Her family sent her to rehab and tried to keep her on track, but she was good at hiding what was going on in her life.

Like his sister, Sean Wisniewski struggled with addiction. He went through rehab, but relapsed. On Aug. 14, 2020, he nearly fainted at a fast-food restaurant in St. James. Workers asked him to move. He moved, vomited and passed out. He later died at a hospital. The investigation into his case is still open.

At that point, Brittany Wisniewski had only worked on and off as an informant because law enforcement rules bar people who are actively using drugs from being informants. After her brother’s death, Wisniewski seemed more determined to help get the people who gave her brother drugs, investigators said.

But she still battled her own demons.

On the night of Sept. 13, 2020, Wisniewski stayed in a Massapequa hotel room with her boyfriend and shot up with fentanyl-laced heroin they had bought in Central Islip. At 3 a.m. the next day, she was dead, according to court documents.

She was 21 years old.

DEA Special Agent Charles Bernard knew DeRosa, Wisniewski’s aunt. He broke the news. He’ll never forget her response — it was “a mournful wail,” he said.

DeRosa got the call the same day that she received Sean Wisniewski's ashes at home. She felt she had failed.

She decided to keep her niece's death quiet. She knew investigators had Wisniewski’s phone, and she knew it would unlock vital clues.

She was right. Riddick was merely the first domino to fall in the investigation.

A Nassau undercover detective, with a long history working the street to make drug cases, scrolled through Wisniewski's phone. He recognized some names.

Thomas Murphy was one of those names. He was a friend of Wisniewski's. DeRosa never liked him. After Wisniewski's death, she alleged that he had sent her niece a video on how to shoot up heroin in between her toes or in her ankles to avoid leaving any marks.

The Nassau undercover detective, whom Newsday is not naming for security reasons, knew Murphy had a long history with law enforcement.

The undercover, posing as Wisniewski, texted Murphy and asked for drugs. He texted back immediately and told her to come over.

Agents and detectives pulled up to Murphy’s home in Massapequa Park. He gave them consent to search his house. There, they found an unusual setup: He had a homemade lab where he was experimenting with creating designer drugs with recipes off the internet. He was trying to create new drugs that would yield the same high, but that were technically legal, Knox said.

Murphy also kept a rattlesnake in the basement.

Authorities arrested Murphy, but he died before the case was completed. A drug user himself, he had overdosed multiple times. The last one killed him, Knox said.

Around the time of Murphy’s arrest, investigators came across another number. It belonged to Michael Poliseno, now 70, a nurse practitioner in Merrick.

The detective texted Poliseno from Wisniewski’s phone: “Can my friend get pills?”

Poliseno texted back, “Yes.”

Poliseno wrote prescriptions for drugs, such as Klonopin, which is an anti-seizure medication that can be addictive, and Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He’d keep half and they’d keep half. Agents texted him a fake driver’s license because he would need the name and date of birth to write a prescription. Poliseno sent the prescriptions to a Seaford pharmacy and agreed to meet Wisniewski there.

Agents pulled up and arrested Poliseno on Sept. 23, 2020, just 10 days after Wisniewski took the fatal drug dose.

He had no prior criminal convictions. Nearly a year later, on Aug. 4, 2021, Poliseno pleaded guilty to a felony charge of criminal sale of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to court records. After he complied with a diversion program for nonviolent offenders, the charges were dismissed in February, said his attorney, Steve Gaitman.

Wisniewski’s phone continued to yield information. Agents texted a man they suspected of dealing drugs, Kevin Gibson. This time, an investigator posing as Wisniewski asked, “Can my boyfriend see you?”

Gibson responded once, but then went dark. Agents don’t know why. Nonetheless, they watched him, Knox said.

A month after Wisniewski’s death, her phone received a text out of the blue: “Tonight, trade.”

The agents had no idea who it was. They rushed to track down to whom the phone number belonged. When they realized they were dealing with an elected official, Suffolk Legis. William “Doc” Spencer, they were stunned. They immediately alerted the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit, which declined to comment for this story.

Looking through past texts, agents understood what Spencer wanted. The undercover Nassau detective sent back a text agreeing to meet.

Spencer said he would bring “two blues” — code for Oxycodone — and asked, “Regular spot?”

The detective blanched. He had no idea what the “regular spot” was. He managed to bluff and get the location, investigators said.

At 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2020, Spencer pulled into the parking lot of the Goodwill Store on Jericho Turnpike in East Northport, not far from the burger place where Wisniewski had worked. Spencer had met her while she was working there when she was still a teenager, DeRosa said.

“He was in a position to help her,” she said. “Instead, he smelled a weakness and took advantage of it.”

DEA agents and Suffolk police met Spencer when he stepped out of his county-owned car, in medical scrubs. He also had Oxycodone pills, condoms, lubricant and a loaded Glock pistol, police said.

Through a search warrant, they got Spencer’s phone.

Detectives discovered that he had patronized more than 150 prostitutes, Knox said, a number that was confirmed by three other people with direct knowledge of the investigation. Spencer kept notations on each one, detailing the cost of sexual acts, investigators said.

Agents created a spreadsheet of all the women. Because they were young, and listed by first names or street names, finding them was a challenge. Ultimately, they talked to many of the women. At least five of them said they traded sex for pills from Spencer, Knox said.

More than a year elapsed from Spencer’s arrest to the unsealing of the indictment against him. Because Spencer did not resign from the county legislature, the delay enabled him to accrue the 10 years he needed in the system to qualify for a pension and lifetime health benefits, “which was important,” LaPinta said.

Tracey Edwards, Long Island regional director of the NAACP, said she and two ministers met with Timothy Sini — then the Suffolk County district attorney — to try to make sure Spencer was treated fairly.

“What I said to Sini is that he should be treated like every other case that’s there,” she said.

Edwards said she felt Sini was usurping the role of the state Professional Medical Conduct Board, which disciplines doctors, because Sini wanted Spencer to surrender his medical license as part of a plea agreement.

“I felt he was going beyond” his role as district attorney.

She said she was speaking to him as a community leader, not as a representative of the NAACP.

Sini, who is now in private practice, did not drop the charges. He declined to comment last week.

On Sept. 16, Spencer pleaded guilty and was remanded to jail for a six-month jail term. After his release, he will be required to serve another six months of probation and to perform 420 hours of community service, according to Tania Lopez, director of communications for the Suffolk County district attorney.

If he performs his probation and community service successfully, his felony plea will be vacated, she said in an email. The reduced charge would allow him to reapply for his medical license, LaPinta said.

“This gives him a chance of redemption,” he said.

He is not allowed to reapply to the DEA for a license to prescribe drugs.

While the Spencer case was working its way through the courts, the phone pinged. It was Gibson, the same man who five months earlier had ghosted undercover investigators posing as Wisniewski.

He had a proposition: Did she want to buy drugs?

Investigators made several drug buys from him. They also watched Gibson, and his runner, who led them to an apartment in Mineola. Investigators declined to provide more details of the surveillance.

Suffolk police arrested Gibson on Aug. 4, 2021, and prosecutors filed an 18-count indictment, 16 of them felonies, primarily criminal possession of a narcotic, according to court records.

He entered a guilty plea to one felony drug charge and will be sentenced to 5 years in prison on March 31, said his lawyer, Christopher Gioe.

Gioe said cellphone evidence has become increasingly important in criminal cases, and is “constantly changing” as the capabilities of cellphones evolve.

In "a lot of my cases, the evidence is very weak, but the cellphone data is very strong,” he said.

Gibson’s supplier was in the Mineola apartment. Investigators had it under surveillance for about two months. Ultimately, that supplier gave up a well-established drug operation based in Harlem, Knox said.

Agents contacted the New York City Special Narcotics prosecutor, Bridget Brennan, and New York State Police. For two months — March 26 to June 6, 2022 — investigators listened in on the dealers’ phone conversations. They heard about multiple drug buys being transacted in at least 14 conversations, according to court records.

In the first week of June, State Police investigators with the Violent Gang Narcotics Enforcement Team seized 48 grams of crack; 235 grams of cocaine; 16 grams of heroin; a kilogram press used for shaping and molding narcotics; hundreds of oxycodone pills, and hundreds of dollars in cash, court records show.

They charged five people with conspiring to possess and sell narcotics. Brennan’s office declined to comment. Two of the defendants have pleaded guilty and been sentenced. The cases of two defendants are still pending. A bench warrant has been issued for the fifth defendant after he failed to appear in court.

For all the cases Wisniewski's phone helped investigators make, there was one that they never got to complete.

In September of 2020, agents identified another suspected drug dealer — a man with a long and violent criminal history. He immediately became a top priority. They set up a sting, investigators said.

But they were too late. The day after they set up the meeting, a gunman killed him in a drive-by shooting in Central Islip.

When Brittany Wisniewski died more than two years ago, investigators who had been working with her as an informant were left a clear, consistent road map into the criminal underworld: her cellphone.

Through the information stored in the phone, police and Drug Enforcement Agency agents tracked her contacts, activities and text messages to drug dealers and men who bought sex from her — not all of whom she revealed to investigators when she was alive.

Police obtained Wisniewski's iPhone password from a family member. Because there's no expectation of privacy in death, accessing information in the cellphone raised no legal issues, DEA Special Agent Scott Knox said.

The sprawling investigation that followed culminated in at least eight prosecutions, ensnaring a long-established drug ring in Harlem, a nurse practitioner and a popular doctor who also served as a Suffolk County legislator and member of the county’s opioid task force.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Former Suffolk Legis. William “Doc” Spencer was released from jail Tuesday.
  • State Supreme Court Justice John Collins sentenced Spencer to six months in jail in September.
  • The investigation based on a dead woman’s cellphone culminated in at least eight prosecutions, according to investigators.

The doctor, pediatric otolaryngologist William Spencer, was released from the Suffolk County Jail on Tuesday. State Supreme Court Justice John Collins sentenced Spencer to six months in jail after he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of tampering with public records and a misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute. Spencer referred a request for an interview to his attorney, Anthony LaPinta, who declined to make Spencer available.

Investigators said Spencer traded two oxycodone pills for sex. Three months before his arrest, he reported to police that he was the target of an extortion attempt by someone purporting to be a pimp. In a statement to police, he said, “I have not sought the services of prostitutes or call girls.”

Wisniewski’s cellphone provided proof that the statement was a lie, which he later admitted in court.

"When we’re talking about the types of data that are on a smartphone, people would be shocked as to the depth of the data that is there. We’re talking about who you communicate with and when you communicate, what was said, where you go, where you travel, when you use the phone," said Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "It's like a personal diary that doesn't embellish or lie. The information on the phone is what it purports to be."

For the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s special drug task force targeting fentanyl — a highly dangerous drug — the cellphone provided an opportunity. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. Because it costs one-tenth of what heroin costs, dealers mix it with heroin to enhance the high. But because it's so potent, even the smallest amount can cause an overdose, making it a top priority of the DEA, investigators said.

“Fentanyl is the most dangerous illicit drug on the street today,” said Frank Tarentino, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York division.

Police found Wisniewski’s body at a Budget Inn Motel in Massapequa on Sept. 14, 2020. Alongside her body, there was a hypodermic needle and a cellphone.

Later that night, Knox said he obtained the cellphone password from Wisniewski's aunt and permission to access it. The last call from her phone occurred at 10:26 p.m. Sept. 13. It lasted 40 seconds. The call was to Donta Riddick, a 36-year-old man from West Babylon with a criminal history, according to court records.

Knox then looked at her text messages. She had been ordering heroin. Pretending to be Wisniewski, he texted Riddick and placed the same drug order. Riddick responded and agreed to meet at a Farmingdale gas station the next day, according to court documents.

There, DEA agents working with Nassau County Police Department Major Case Squad detectives arrested Riddick with two bags of fentanyl-laced heroin, the same type of drug that had caused Wisniewski's death.

Riddick’s criminal history started when he was 17. He had six prior felony convictions and nine misdemeanor convictions, and had served three prison sentences for drug-related crimes, court records show.

His case worked its way through the court system. On Jan. 28, 2022, on the eve of trial, Riddick pleaded guilty to possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute and acknowledged in court that he sold the drugs that caused Wisniewski’s death, according to court filings.

On Sept. 13, 2022 — two years to the date on which he sold Wisniewski the fatal drug combination — Federal District Court Judge Gary Brown sentenced Riddick to 16½ years in prison. “You get to go home in some time,” Brown told him. “The victim does not.”

Riddick apologized to Wisniewski’s family and vowed to change in prison.

Charmaine DeRosa speaks about her late niece, Brittany Wisniewski, on...

Charmaine DeRosa speaks about her late niece, Brittany Wisniewski, on Nov. 10 in East Northport. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Troubled history

Wisniewski was a sweet, spontaneous young woman who rescued animals and enrolled in a nursing school program, said her aunt, Charmaine DeRosa, 59, of Smithtown.

But early on, she faced challenges in a family with a history of substance abuse. Wisniewski was just 15 when her mother died of a drug overdose in the bedroom they shared, DeRosa said.

By then, Wisniewski was smoking marijuana. She also was meeting strangers online who introduced her to other drugs. The dealers were clever. They used cartoon ads on social media to get teenagers’ attention, DeRosa said.

After her mother’s death, two aunts took in Wisniewski and her younger brother, Sean Wisniewski. They tried hard to shield them from dangerous influences, but, “There’s so much to combat,” DeRosa said.

Wisniewski earned good grades at Commack High School and got a job at a burger place in East Northport when she was 16. But the pull of drugs was always there.

Sometimes, Wisniewski would stay out late and lie about where she was. Her sleep habits became erratic. Normally, her texts were always perfectly punctuated, but sometimes they’d be sloppy. The biggest tipoff was her eyes, which would become glazed over, even when she seemed sober, the aunt said.

“I always look in the eyes,” DeRosa said.

Her family sent her to rehab and tried to keep her on track, but she was good at hiding what was going on in her life.

Like his sister, Sean Wisniewski struggled with addiction. He went through rehab, but relapsed. On Aug. 14, 2020, he nearly fainted at a fast-food restaurant in St. James. Workers asked him to move. He moved, vomited and passed out. He later died at a hospital. The investigation into his case is still open.

At that point, Brittany Wisniewski had only worked on and off as an informant because law enforcement rules bar people who are actively using drugs from being informants. After her brother’s death, Wisniewski seemed more determined to help get the people who gave her brother drugs, investigators said.

But she still battled her own demons.

On the night of Sept. 13, 2020, Wisniewski stayed in a Massapequa hotel room with her boyfriend and shot up with fentanyl-laced heroin they had bought in Central Islip. At 3 a.m. the next day, she was dead, according to court documents.

She was 21 years old.

DEA Special Agent Charles Bernard knew DeRosa, Wisniewski’s aunt. He broke the news. He’ll never forget her response — it was “a mournful wail,” he said.

DeRosa got the call the same day that she received Sean Wisniewski's ashes at home. She felt she had failed.

She decided to keep her niece's death quiet. She knew investigators had Wisniewski’s phone, and she knew it would unlock vital clues.

She was right. Riddick was merely the first domino to fall in the investigation.

A Nassau undercover detective, with a long history working the street to make drug cases, scrolled through Wisniewski's phone. He recognized some names.

Thomas Murphy was one of those names. He was a friend of Wisniewski's. DeRosa never liked him. After Wisniewski's death, she alleged that he had sent her niece a video on how to shoot up heroin in between her toes or in her ankles to avoid leaving any marks.

The Nassau undercover detective, whom Newsday is not naming for security reasons, knew Murphy had a long history with law enforcement.

The undercover, posing as Wisniewski, texted Murphy and asked for drugs. He texted back immediately and told her to come over.

Agents and detectives pulled up to Murphy’s home in Massapequa Park. He gave them consent to search his house. There, they found an unusual setup: He had a homemade lab where he was experimenting with creating designer drugs with recipes off the internet. He was trying to create new drugs that would yield the same high, but that were technically legal, Knox said.

Murphy also kept a rattlesnake in the basement.

Authorities arrested Murphy, but he died before the case was completed. A drug user himself, he had overdosed multiple times. The last one killed him, Knox said.

A nurse practitioner

Around the time of Murphy’s arrest, investigators came across another number. It belonged to Michael Poliseno, now 70, a nurse practitioner in Merrick.

The detective texted Poliseno from Wisniewski’s phone: “Can my friend get pills?”

Poliseno texted back, “Yes.”

Poliseno wrote prescriptions for drugs, such as Klonopin, which is an anti-seizure medication that can be addictive, and Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He’d keep half and they’d keep half. Agents texted him a fake driver’s license because he would need the name and date of birth to write a prescription. Poliseno sent the prescriptions to a Seaford pharmacy and agreed to meet Wisniewski there.

Agents pulled up and arrested Poliseno on Sept. 23, 2020, just 10 days after Wisniewski took the fatal drug dose.

He had no prior criminal convictions. Nearly a year later, on Aug. 4, 2021, Poliseno pleaded guilty to a felony charge of criminal sale of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to court records. After he complied with a diversion program for nonviolent offenders, the charges were dismissed in February, said his attorney, Steve Gaitman.

Wisniewski’s phone continued to yield information. Agents texted a man they suspected of dealing drugs, Kevin Gibson. This time, an investigator posing as Wisniewski asked, “Can my boyfriend see you?”

Gibson responded once, but then went dark. Agents don’t know why. Nonetheless, they watched him, Knox said.

A doctor

A month after Wisniewski’s death, her phone received a text out of the blue: “Tonight, trade.”

The agents had no idea who it was. They rushed to track down to whom the phone number belonged. When they realized they were dealing with an elected official, Suffolk Legis. William “Doc” Spencer, they were stunned. They immediately alerted the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit, which declined to comment for this story.

William Spencer arrives at court on Sept. 16, 2022, in Riverhead.

William Spencer arrives at court on Sept. 16, 2022, in Riverhead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Looking through past texts, agents understood what Spencer wanted. The undercover Nassau detective sent back a text agreeing to meet.

Spencer said he would bring “two blues” — code for Oxycodone — and asked, “Regular spot?”

The detective blanched. He had no idea what the “regular spot” was. He managed to bluff and get the location, investigators said.

At 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2020, Spencer pulled into the parking lot of the Goodwill Store on Jericho Turnpike in East Northport, not far from the burger place where Wisniewski had worked. Spencer had met her while she was working there when she was still a teenager, DeRosa said.

“He was in a position to help her,” she said. “Instead, he smelled a weakness and took advantage of it.”

DEA agents and Suffolk police met Spencer when he stepped out of his county-owned car, in medical scrubs. He also had Oxycodone pills, condoms, lubricant and a loaded Glock pistol, police said.

Through a search warrant, they got Spencer’s phone.

Detectives discovered that he had patronized more than 150 prostitutes, Knox said, a number that was confirmed by three other people with direct knowledge of the investigation. Spencer kept notations on each one, detailing the cost of sexual acts, investigators said.

Agents created a spreadsheet of all the women. Because they were young, and listed by first names or street names, finding them was a challenge. Ultimately, they talked to many of the women. At least five of them said they traded sex for pills from Spencer, Knox said.

More than a year elapsed from Spencer’s arrest to the unsealing of the indictment against him. Because Spencer did not resign from the county legislature, the delay enabled him to accrue the 10 years he needed in the system to qualify for a pension and lifetime health benefits, “which was important,” LaPinta said.

Defense attorney Anthony LaPinta at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Sept. 29, 2022. Credit: James Carbone

Tracey Edwards, Long Island regional director of the NAACP, said she and two ministers met with Timothy Sini — then the Suffolk County district attorney — to try to make sure Spencer was treated fairly.

“What I said to Sini is that he should be treated like every other case that’s there,” she said.

Edwards said she felt Sini was usurping the role of the state Professional Medical Conduct Board, which disciplines doctors, because Sini wanted Spencer to surrender his medical license as part of a plea agreement.

“I felt he was going beyond” his role as district attorney.

She said she was speaking to him as a community leader, not as a representative of the NAACP.

Sini, who is now in private practice, did not drop the charges. He declined to comment last week.

On Sept. 16, Spencer pleaded guilty and was remanded to jail for a six-month jail term. After his release, he will be required to serve another six months of probation and to perform 420 hours of community service, according to Tania Lopez, director of communications for the Suffolk County district attorney.

If he performs his probation and community service successfully, his felony plea will be vacated, she said in an email. The reduced charge would allow him to reapply for his medical license, LaPinta said.

“This gives him a chance of redemption,” he said.

He is not allowed to reapply to the DEA for a license to prescribe drugs.

Path to Harlem

While the Spencer case was working its way through the courts, the phone pinged. It was Gibson, the same man who five months earlier had ghosted undercover investigators posing as Wisniewski.

He had a proposition: Did she want to buy drugs?

Investigators made several drug buys from him. They also watched Gibson, and his runner, who led them to an apartment in Mineola. Investigators declined to provide more details of the surveillance.

Suffolk police arrested Gibson on Aug. 4, 2021, and prosecutors filed an 18-count indictment, 16 of them felonies, primarily criminal possession of a narcotic, according to court records.

He entered a guilty plea to one felony drug charge and will be sentenced to 5 years in prison on March 31, said his lawyer, Christopher Gioe.

Gioe said cellphone evidence has become increasingly important in criminal cases, and is “constantly changing” as the capabilities of cellphones evolve.

In "a lot of my cases, the evidence is very weak, but the cellphone data is very strong,” he said.

Gibson’s supplier was in the Mineola apartment. Investigators had it under surveillance for about two months. Ultimately, that supplier gave up a well-established drug operation based in Harlem, Knox said.

Agents contacted the New York City Special Narcotics prosecutor, Bridget Brennan, and New York State Police. For two months — March 26 to June 6, 2022 — investigators listened in on the dealers’ phone conversations. They heard about multiple drug buys being transacted in at least 14 conversations, according to court records.

In the first week of June, State Police investigators with the Violent Gang Narcotics Enforcement Team seized 48 grams of crack; 235 grams of cocaine; 16 grams of heroin; a kilogram press used for shaping and molding narcotics; hundreds of oxycodone pills, and hundreds of dollars in cash, court records show.

They charged five people with conspiring to possess and sell narcotics. Brennan’s office declined to comment. Two of the defendants have pleaded guilty and been sentenced. The cases of two defendants are still pending. A bench warrant has been issued for the fifth defendant after he failed to appear in court.

For all the cases Wisniewski's phone helped investigators make, there was one that they never got to complete.

In September of 2020, agents identified another suspected drug dealer — a man with a long and violent criminal history. He immediately became a top priority. They set up a sting, investigators said.

But they were too late. The day after they set up the meeting, a gunman killed him in a drive-by shooting in Central Islip.

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