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Sources: Federal probe focuses on Spota, chief assistant

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota appears at

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota appears at a news conference at his office in Hauppauge on Thursday, May 12, 2016. Credit: James Carbone

Federal investigators are probing whether Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and one of his chief assistants took part in the cover-up of the assault on a man who stole a duffel bag from the former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke’s SUV, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Burke, a longtime Spota protégé, already has been convicted of violating the civil rights of Christopher Loeb, now 29, of Smithtown, by assaulting him and then obstructing justice by taking part, with other police officers, in a cover-up of the initial attack. Burke is being held as a danger to the community in a federal jail, awaiting sentencing now scheduled for Aug. 25.

The investigation into whether Spota and the aide, Christopher McPartland, the head of the district attorney’s political corruption unit, also took part in the orchestration of the Loeb cover-up is only one of the dozens of cases that Spota and his office have been involved in that have been examined for the past several months for possible illegalities, the sources said.

The cases include the district attorney’s handling of the 2010 shooting in Huntington Station of a taxi driver, Thomas Moroughan, by an off-duty Nassau police officer; the still unexplained details behind the agreement of former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy not to run for re-election; the handling of the criminal case against Robert Macdeonio, a prominent Suffolk County attorney, and the wiretapping of a Suffolk police officer, John Oliva, who had been working on gang cases with the FBI.

The probe is also exploring other cases involving investigations into Robert Stricoff, Donald Rodgers and Justin Meyers — figures associated with the administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone — and whether the distribution by the district attorney’s office of millions of dollars in asset forfeiture money was improperly used by the DA’s office as a reward for favorites or for the office’s own political benefit.

Newsday has reported that McPartland has been issued a target letter by the Justice Department, indicating he is the focus of an investigation. And Newsday also has reported that the handling of the wiretapping of Oliva and the case of Macedonio are being probed by federal officials.

But the far-reaching extent of the investigation by federal prosecutors, the FBI, and special Justice Department criminal investigators, working directly for Eastern District U.S. Attorney Robert Capers, has not been publicly reported, the sources said.

The sources stress that the federal investigation is ongoing, that an investigation does not mean that any crimes have been committed or uncovered, and that aside from Burke, no one has been publicly charged with any crime.

Spota has said he has done nothing wrong. McPartland and his attorney have declined to comment. People close to him say he has said that he has done nothing illegal.

The federal investigation includes situations uncovered directly by investigators as well as voluminous tips from outsiders, the sources said.

But whatever the individual circumstances of the cases being investigated, the common thread is determining whether or not there was any violation or pattern of violations of federal law. These might include violations of civil rights or obstruction of justice. Those include, on one hand, the use of investigations or wiretaps for illegal purposes, such as spying on or deliberately targeting rivals or perceived enemies, while, on the other hand, ignoring complaints against people such as political supporters and people in the district attorney’s office who are close to Spota.

In response to questions about the scope of the federal investigation, Spota’s office released a statement late Friday afternoon, saying: “District Attorney Spota and the men and woman employed at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office endeavor to discharge their duties faithfully, ethically and professionally.”

The statement said: “McPartland is a dedicated prosecutor who has during his decades-long employment with the District Attorney’s Office conducted himself appropriately and lawfully. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”

The statement continued: “The District Attorney has issued multiple public statements on both the Levy and Moroughan cases. We stand by those statements and are confident both matters were resolved in an appropriate, lawful exercise of the District Attorney’s prosecutorial discretion . . . ”

“The investigation relating to Robert Stricoff was referred by the District Attorney to enforcement counsel for the New York State Board of Elections after an audit by an independent accounting firm was completed at Mr. Spota’s request,” the statement continued. “To the best of our knowledge the investigation remains with this state agency.”

“The investigation relating to Justin Meyers was promptly closed after it was determined the allegation was untrue,” the statement said. “All District Attorney’s Office Asset Forfeiture accounts are properly maintained and reported according to state and federal law and guidelines.”

In the Levy case, Spota said in 2011 when the then-county executive agreed not to run for re-election: “Today, our County Executive Steve Levy announced that he would not seek re-election and that he was turning his campaign funds over to the District Attorney’s Office. There is no question that while the investigation revealed serious issues with regard to fundraising and the manner in which it was conducted, including the use of public resources, I am confident that Mr. Levy did not personally profit . . . The decision to allow Mr. Levy to complete his term was carefully considered and involved weighing his conduct, the need for stability in government in these difficult economic times while affording a smooth transition after the 2011 elections.”

Nellin McIntosh, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Capers, declined to comment, as did Levy’s lawyer Stephen Scaring, of Garden City.

Burke’s lawyer, Joseph Conway, of Mineola, who also represented Macedonio, declined to comment on either case Friday, except to say that “since his arrest, in 2015, Mr. Burke has not spoken with federal authorities.”

Previously, Conway has said Macedonio’s relations with prominent figures in Suffolk law enforcement did not result in the circumstances of his case getting him any special treatment.

In the case of former police chief Burke, federal prosecutors, in arguing that Burke be held without bail, said that they had 11 police officers who would testify against the former chief’s account of what had happened in the Loeb case. Federal investigators are now probing whether Burke could have engineered the initial cover-up of his actions without the assistance of McPartland or Spota or both, the sources said.

Similarly in the case of Moroughan, the taxi driver, both Nassau and Suffolk police officers were involved in the original 2011 incident that resulted in Moroughan at first being charged with assault. However, a confidential NCPD Internal Affairs Unit report said the Nassau police officer Anthony DiLeonardo had been drinking heavily before the shooting and had recklessly escalated a roadside confrontation before opening fire on the cabdriver, who posed no threat.

Spota has maintained that he empaneled a grand jury to look into the matter, but that it could not develop a case, if any, against officers because Moroughan refused to cooperate, and instead deciding to sue civilly.

Mirel Fisch, an attorney representing Moroughan in an ongoing federal lawsuit against several entities including the Suffolk district attorney’s office, said that her client welcomed the federal investigation.

“There is overwhelming evidence establishing not only that DiLeonardo committed various crimes when he shot Moroughan, but more disturbingly, that numerous members of the law enforcement community covered up that fact to shield an fellow officer from criminal prosecution,” Fisch said in a statement. “The District Attorney’s Office had this evidence at its disposal, but nonetheless would not prosecute DiLeonardo or those who concealed his criminal conduct.”

On the political front: federal investigators have been interviewing people who might have knowledge about why Levy in 2011 surrendered a $4.1 million re-election political war chest to Spota, and agreed not to run for county executive again.

Levy and Spota have not publicly disclosed the specifics behind Levy’s actions, and have declined to say why Spota took such drastic action if Levy had not done anything that might have been prosecutable.

One person who has been questioned by federal investigators in the Levy matter has been the county attorney under Levy, Christine Malafi, sources say. Malafi was involved in handing out county contracts for title companies and lawyers, many of whom contributed to Levy’s political war chest. Levy and Spota have said that Levy’s decision not to run was somehow involved in his fundraising activities, but have not been more explicit. Malafi did not return a call for comment.

Also in the political area, federal investigators are looking into Spota’s investigations into a number of political officials, including Stricoff, the Babylon Democratic chairman; Rodgers, the former county information technology commissioner, and Meyers, former spokesman for Bellone, who is now the spokesman for the police department. They all have connections to Bellone, who has feuded with Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who, in turn, is close to Spota.

Spota investigated complaints about Stricoff’s handling of party funds in 2014, but eventually sent the matter to the State Board of Elections. Stricoff’s lawyer has denied his client has done anything wrong.

Rodgers, who had been Bellone’s information technology aide, resigned and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in 2014 in connection with a county contract with Microsoft that had been funded by the legislature.

Meyers was investigated for allegedly doing political work on county time but eventually cleared, the sources said.

In one case involving a wiretap by Spota’s office, Oliva pleaded guilty in 2014 to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct for leaking confidential information to Newsday. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether the wiretap was mainly operated not to determine if Oliva was leaking information, but to keep tabs on a then-federal investigation into Chief Burke because Oliva had been working on a federal anti-gang task force with FBI agents.

In a more extensive use of a wiretap by Spota’s office, the federal investigators are seeking to determine if information gleaned on a wiretap on Macedonio was used only to convict Macedonio of drug possession, while other information involving possible fraud by Macedonio, political corruption in the county and possible illegal activities by a member of Spota’s staff, was ignored, sources said.

In the case of asset forfeiture: Unlike the Nassau district attorney’s office, and the Nassau and the Suffolk county police departments, Spota’s office has declined to explain how the office dispenses money and goods seized in its cases.

In 2014, Spota spokesman Robert Clifford, when questioned about the program, only would say in line with other assertions that the office’s activities are legal: “The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office complies with the law and [state and federal asset forfeiture] guidelines at all times,” the statement said.

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