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Former top deputy to Spota testifies at ex-DA's obstruction trial under subpoena

Ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, left, and former

Ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, left, and former top aide Christopher McPartland arrive at U.S. District Court in Central Islip on Wednesday. Credit: Composite photo: John Roca

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

Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota was angry when he learned how police initially handled the case of a prisoner whose beating at a Hauppauge precinct he's now accused of covering up, his longtime chief assistant testified at his obstruction trial Wednesday.

Emily Constant, who retired as acting Suffolk district attorney two years ago and testified under subpoena, said she first heard of problems linked to the 2012 burglary case involving Christopher Loeb three days after Loeb broke into then-Police Chief James Burke's vehicle. She said Spota was angry after police didn't bring Loeb to his court arraignment the day after his arrest.

Prosecutors have alleged Spota and his former anti-corruption chief Christopher McPartland were part of a yearslong effort to conceal Burke's beating of Loeb on Dec. 14, 2012. The Smithtown man's assault at the Fourth Precinct happened hours after Loeb stole a bag belonging to Burke with items that included his gun belt, ammunition, cigars, sex toys, pornography and Viagra, according to testimony.

Constant said she first became aware of beating allegations involving Loeb after she heard "an angry Tom Spota" along with the voices of McPartland and others outside her office on a Monday in December 2012.

"Do you know about this?" Constant said Spota asked after walking into her office.

The witness said she greeted Spota with a "good morning," before Spota repeated his question.

Constant said McPartland, also in the room, then spoke of Burke's car being burglarized the previous Friday.

McPartland said he, Burke and William Madigan — soon to become chief of detectives for Suffolk police — were going to a holiday party in the city when they heard cops had a suspect, the witness recalled.

Constant said McPartland also said that against advice from Madigan and himself, Burke "had gone to the home where all this property was located."

McPartland further indicated that Spiros Moustakas, then a prosecutor in his unit, was handling the case and police didn't bring Loeb to court for his Saturday arraignment, the witness recalled.

"Mr. Spota said something like 'Tell her why he wasn't produced,' " Constant added.

She then testified that McPartland reported Fourth Precinct police said they were too busy with a car crash and didn't have enough manpower to drive Loeb to court.

After that, Spota "expressed disbelief" that had occurred, according to Constant, who said Moustakas was instructed by Spota to write a memo and put it in the Loeb file.

Constant also said Spota wanted a call made to central police dispatch to see if the car crash really took place.

She recalled McPartland explained he'd assigned the matter to Moustakas because it was a Friday, a lot of assistant district attorneys were at Christmas parties and "there wasn't anybody else to handle the case."

"Did that sound right to you?" prosecutor Justina Geraci asked Wednesday.

"It did not," Constant replied.

Constant, who said she took part in two meetings outside the office involving Burke while a federal probe was underway, agreed she didn't want to see her former boss or McPartland convicted at the trial.

Spota, 78, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 54, of Northport, are standing trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, after pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of Loeb's civil rights.

Burke, Spota's former chief investigator and protégé, pleaded guilty in early 2016 to charges connected to assaulting Loeb and trying to cover it up. He served most of a 46-month prison sentence before his release to home confinement last year.

Spota and McPartland say they couldn't have been part of trying to conceal Burke's actions because he never admitted his guilt to them.

Constant also testified Wednesday that Spota told her to reassign Loeb's case to the major crime bureau but she forgot and never did it.

She also said she first became aware that Burke went to the Fourth Precinct on the day of Loeb's arrest after Loeb's February 2013 arraignment on an indictment.

Constant said she learned about it after McPartland briefed her that day on what happened in court.

"Well, we better go in and tell the DA," the witness recalled telling McPartland, saying she also had to tell Spota she forgot to reassign the case.

Constant said Spota "was upset" and "incredulous" that Burke had gone to the precinct.

She said Spota then told her they'd have to get a special prosecutor for Loeb's case.

Constant also described two meetings where she said Burke broke down crying, one at Spota's home in June 2013 and another in October 2015 at her Port Jefferson home.

The first meeting occurred after the FBI issued a first round of subpoenas connected to the Loeb case.

Constant said Burke, McPartland and Madigan also gathered at Spota's home after Burke returned from a fishing trip and was upset and "at one point he was crying" while saying the FBI had subpoenaed cops.

The witness said Burke called the tactic payback for his decision to take Suffolk detectives off federal task forces.

Constant said Spota, McPartland and Burke came to her home for the second meeting after County Executive Steve Bellone had fired Burke and told Madigan, the chief of detectives, to go home for two weeks.

Burke, she said, was "sobbing" and saying he was being targeted and hadn't done anything wrong.

"The general reaction was surprise ... distress," Constant added.

She said Spota also was very upset that Madigan might be fired and said he would speak to Bellone about saving his job.

Constant's testimony will continue Thursday.

Earlier Wednesday, jurors heard from an FBI agent who testified that phone records showed Spota and McPartland had contact with each other and other players in the Loeb case at key times.

FBI Agent William Sena took the stand to continue testimony he began a day earlier.

He used charts to demonstrate patterns of calls on days that included the day of Loeb's beating, and when federal subpoenas went out in 2013.

Sena testified that Burke called McPartland's home shortly before 7 a.m. on the day his department vehicle was burglarized, while also making calls to James Hickey.

Hickey is the government's star witness and has directly connected Spota to the alleged conspiracy. He previously testified his job was to silence the three detectives in his unit who took part in Loeb's assault with Burke.

At 11:39 a.m. on the day of Loeb's beating, McPartland's cell called Spota's office, Sena said.

He testified that calls from Burke also went to Hickey and Madigan, whom Hickey named as a player in the cover-up scheme.

Kenneth Bombace, a detective who testified he took part in the beating, also called Burke and Madigan called Hickey that day, Sena said.

The calls continued into that evening, with McPartland's phone calling Burke's phone at 11:41 p.m. and McPartland — twice after midnight — calling Moustakas.

At 1:36 a.m. on the day of Loeb's scheduled arraignment, McPartland called Burke, Sena said.

On June 25, 2013, the day federal subpoenas went out, Bombace called Hickey at 7:06 a.m.

Then, McPartland got a call from Joseph Sawicki's phone at 7:38 a.m.

Sawicki, Suffolk's assistant deputy police commissioner for finance, previously testified Burke was aboard a fishing boat trip he organized and Burke told him to turn the vessel around shortly after it left Orient Point.

The witness said Burke told him he got a call and "had to meet with the FBI."

Sawicki said in his testimony he didn't use his phone to call McPartland.

At 7:47 a.m. and 8:28 a.m. that day, McPartland's phone called Spota's phone, Sena said.

Burke called McPartland at 8:33 a.m. and Madigan called Burke and Spota called McPartland at 9:36 a.m. and at 9:37 a.m., the FBI agent said.

McPartland's attorney, Larry Krantz, asked Sena if he knew what was said during the calls and he admitted he didn't.

Erin Monju, an attorney for Spota, elicited from the witness that a lot of the calls were a minute long and may have gone straight to voicemail. 

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