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Suffolk Legis. William Spencer stripped of leadership post, committee chairmanship

Suffolk County Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) leaves First

Suffolk County Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) leaves First District Court in Central Islip after his arraignment on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Legis. William Spencer, who was arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to trade drugs for sexual favors, has stepped down from his leadership posts in the county legislature, Presiding Officer Robert Calarco said Thursday.

Spencer (D-Centerport) agreed to step down as legislative majority leader at the request of the Democratic caucus, Calarco said.

Spencer also will be stripped of his chairmanship of the legislature's Health Committee, and his post on the county’s heroin and opioid epidemic advisory panel.

Calarco (D-Patchogue) said Spencer would not resign from his legislative seat.

"There is nothing in the law that requires a legislator to resign while charges are pending, and while the allegations against Legislator Spencer are serious, he is entitled to his day in court," Calarco said in a statement.

Spencer, a physician, was arrested Tuesday after he attempted to trade oxycodone pills for sexual favors with a woman he thought was a sex worker, Suffolk County prosecutors said.

Spencer has pleaded not guilty.

County Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer said he supports Spencer’s decision to step down from his posts but not to resign, saying anyone accused of a crime has a right to defend themselves.

"I believe that is in the best interests of him and his colleagues, so that he can focus on his duties as a legislator for residents in his district, as well as the allegations made against him, in a thorough and professional manner," Schaffer said.

GOP chairman Jesse Garcia has called for Spencer to resign. He said Spencer should focus on personal matters "so the legislature can focus on rebuilding the trust" of people affected by the opioid epidemic.

"This is not about politics," Garcia said. "This is about restoring the confidence of the people of Suffolk County that their government is working with one goal in mind, and that is to combat this opioid epidemic and to help those who are afflicted."

Spencer faces charges of third-degree sale of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, both felonies. Spencer, who faces up to 9 years in prison if convicted, was released on his own recognizance after surrendering his passport and firearm. He is due back in court Feb. 26.

Suffolk prosecutors said Spencer had a long-standing relationship with a woman engaging in prostitution. He was unaware that she had died of a drug overdose last month. On Tuesday evening, Spencer sent a text message to the woman's phone that said "tonight, trade," prosecutors said.

A drug enforcement agent had taken possession of the woman's phone because she had been an occasional informant and the agent arranged to meet Spencer behind a Goodwill store in East Northport, prosecutors said.

Spencer, 53, dressed in medical scrubs, drove his county car to the meeting and was arrested, officials said. He was in possession of two pills of oxycodone, a powerful and highly addictive opioid, condoms and a loaded handgun. Spencer has a business permit for the gun that allows him to take the weapon to and from work, according to Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini.

Spencer is now the second sitting legislator facing criminal charges. Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley) was indicted last year on perjury charges for allegedly lying to the county Board of Ethics about his position at the Centereach Fire District. Prosecutors said he lied on a financial disclosure form. Sunderman called the allegations "untrue" and vowed to remain in office.

Garcia said Sunderman’s case is different than Spencer’s because it involved paperwork, not a sting operation for allegedly trading drugs for sex.

Minority Leader Tom Cilmi declined to comment. A spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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