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Jury selected in case against ex-Suffolk DA and aide to hear opening statements Thursday

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and Christopher McPartland arrive at federal court in Central Islip on April 1. Credit: James Carbone

This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler and Bridget Murphy. It was written by Murphy.

Jurors who will consider the government's obstruction of justice case against former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and one of his chief aides will start their work Thursday.

The panel of 12 jurors and 6 alternates, picked Wednesday from an overall pool of about 400 people, will be sworn in before opening statements from lawyers in the federal trial of Spota and Christopher McPartland, his former anti-corruption unit chief.

Nine of the 12 jurors live on Long Island, hailing from towns including Bellmore, Freeport, West Islip and East Quogue. Others live in Queens. Their education backgrounds vary, ranging from high school graduates to those with bachelor's and master's degrees.

Among the jurors are a school teacher, an air traffic controller, a cable installer and a financial industry employee.

Opening statements are expected to last about 90 minutes before the prosecution calls its first witness.

Spota, 78, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 53, of Northport, have pleaded not guilty to four felony charges.

An indictment accuses them of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of a handcuffed burglary suspect’s civil rights after his beating by then-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke. 

Prosecutors say Spota and McPartland tried to cover up Burke’s December 2012 assault on Christopher Loeb, who stole a duffel bag from Burke’s police vehicle that contained a gun belt, magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, sex toys and pornography. 

The indictment also alleges the defendants, Burke and others used intimidation and threats to pressure one or more witnesses, including co-conspirators, not to cooperate with a federal probe into the assault, and to provide false information and withhold information from authorities and the grand jury.

Jury selection concluded Wednesday after a last round of picking that began a day earlier in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. The panel was narrowed from a final field of 40 prospective jurors during questioning by attorneys for the prosecution and defense and U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack.

The process began weeks ago, with potential panelists answering a 45-question survey that included queries about whether each had any connection to possible witnesses or figures in the case.

The questionnaire also had queries about mental illness and alcohol abuse, with the judge indicating Tuesday that "major testimony in the case" will come from people who had "problems" with alcohol.

The defendants have been free on $500,000 bond each since their arraignments in October 2017. Each would face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, but likely would receive less severe punishments.

Prosecutors have said two former Suffolk police officials, whom they haven’t named, are cooperating with the government after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.

The U.S. attorney’s office has said prosecution witnesses will include current and former law enforcement officials who will detail the Loeb assault and the obstruction of justice conspiracy that the defendants allegedly spearheaded with Burke and others.

But Alan Vinegrad, Spota’s attorney, and Larry Krantz, McPartland’s attorney, contend Burke never admitted to their clients he had assaulted Loeb.

They claim Burke, in fact, “vociferously denied it” to them — negating the government’s theory that both defendants knew Burke was guilty and tried to help him conceal it.

Both defense attorneys declined to comment after the jury's selection Wednesday.

In November 2016, Burke was sentenced to 46 months in prison for beating Loeb — then a heroin addict who lived in Smithtown — before orchestrating an elaborate scheme to try to cover his actions.

Burke served almost all of his prison sentence before his release last year to home confinement.

As Spota’s longtime protégé, Burke served as his chief investigator for a decade before becoming Suffolk’s police chief in 2012.

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