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Former cop links Spota, McPartland to Loeb assault cover-up

Christopher McPartland, left, and Thomas Spota last week.

Christopher McPartland, left, and Thomas Spota last week. Credit: Composite: John Roca

Four men in room

"Wait, wait, wait, wait," Thomas Spota, Suffolk's former district attorney, was quoted as saying in June 2015 after being told that the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District had reopened an investigation into the assault of Christopher Loeb.

"That is impossible," former Suffolk Lt. James Hickey said Spota said. "The case file has been returned to us."

A few minutes later, Hickey quoted Spota as saying to him, "Somebody's talking and you better find out who it is, fast, if it isn't too late already."

Hickey, in testimony Tuesday in the trial of Spota and Christopher McPartland, former head of Spota's anti-corruption unit, said that he, Spota, McPartland and then-Suffolk police Chief of Department James Burke were in Spota's office at the time.

"Who do you think is talking?" Spota asked Hickey a few minutes later, according to the testimony.

Hickey suggested that it could be one of his detectives, Kenneth Bombace.

"If he talks, he's dead here in Suffolk County," Hickey quoted Spota — who sat at the defendant's table writing on a tablet — as saying. "He will never work here again. I will see to it."

At several points, Burke and McPartland joined in the discussion.

"Tommy," Hickey quoted Burke as saying, "Can you believe they are going to put me in jail for tapping a junkie thief on the top of the head?"

"I told you," Hickey quoted Spota as replying, "I told you you never should have left here."

Burke, in speaking to Hickey, told him to warn Bombace and the other detectives who had assaulted Loeb.

"Remind them," Hickey quoted Burke as saying, "what happens when you go against 'The Administration.’ ”

"What did Mr. McPartland say?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz asked.

"Ask John Oliva," Hickey testified.

In earlier testimony Hickey said Spota, McPartland and Burke had dubbed themselves "The Administration."

"You tell the guys," Hickey quoted Burke as saying, "I go, you all go."

"You, too," he said, addressing Hickey, "Mr. Little League coach."

Up the down career ladder

Earlier, Hickey testified that Spota and Burke had backed his promotion to head criminal intelligence.

"Did Mr. Burke tell you what, if anything, he expected from you as a result of the promotion?" Gatz asked.

"Yes," Hickey answered.

"What was it," Gatz queried.

"Loyalty above all," came the reply.

After that June 2015 meeting, however, Hickey said he knew his career was over.

"I was in trouble with the law," he said. "I was in trouble with Spota, Burke and McPartland for not controlling my guys."

"I was dead," he said, "I was dead."

"Did you take any steps to try to find out who was cooperating?" Gatz asked.

"No," Hickey replied.

"Because I knew it was too late."

Seeking advice

Hickey described a later meeting with Burke and McPartland, after which Burke asked Hickey, "What should I do?"

"You should quit," Hickey said he told Burke. "This is never going away."

"If I do that, I'll lose the power of the unions," Burke replied, according to the testimony.

"I'll just be Mr. Burke."

No protection

Even if he continued to follow orders from Burke, Spota and McPartland, Hickey testified, he did not believe they were going to protect Bombace and other intelligence unit detectives.

"They were going to throw my guys under the bus," Hickey testified.

"They were going to keep Burke out of it and make my guys to be the beater."

Even so, Hickey testified, he passed some of Burke's words on to his unit. "If they want to be in the best job, in the best cars," he said Burke told him, “ … this is what they signed up for."

Job One

"I felt I had the weight of the conspiracy wholly on my back," Hickey testified.

At one point, Burke told Hickey not to come to work. "He told me I didn't need to," Hickey testified.

Instead, Hickey was to keep an eye on the detectives in his command, three of whom had beaten Burke.

"Burke called it 'backyard therapy,’ ” Hickey said.

"And who was going to be providing the therapy?" Gatz asked.

"Well, I guess that would be me," Hickey replied.

As the weeks wore on, Hickey said, Burke would tell him, "That is your only job. Keeping me alive."

Retaliation

"If you crossed Spota, McPartland and Burke," Hickey said, "if you crossed one, you crossed them all."

They were the three most powerful men in Suffolk County.

“They knew no bounds,” Hickey testified.

How do you know this? Gatz asked.

“I was in the Inner Circle for 10 years. I know how they operate,” Hickey replied.

Did Burke have a way of talking about enemies? Gatz asked.

"It was a curse." Hickey said.

Gatz asked him what the curse was.

"[Expletive] that guy, we've got to [expletive] that guy," Hickey answered.

"You do not want to be an enemy, you do not want to be one."

Smart lawyers

Hickey testified that whenever issues came up about the Loeb assault, the first thing Burke would do was call Spota and McPartland.

After subpoenas came down in the 2013 federal investigation, Burke told Hickey to tell his men not to worry.

"Burke told me to tell them that he had the two smartest lawyers he knows working on it, Spota and McPartland, and they were going to get my detectives real lawyers … not union lawyers."

The world knows

After Loeb's lawyer told the press about the assault, the attempt to cover up intensified, Hickey said.

"This is next-level intensity," Hickey testified.

"Now the world knows."

Later, under questioning from Gatz, Hickey returned to the matter again.

"The world knew," he said. "It was a big deal, it was a big deal in our lives."

Story time

Early on there was discussion about whether to deny that Burke was at the precinct.

"Burke initially proposed that," Hickey said.

"McPartland said, 'That story is never going to fly, too many people saw you,’ ” Hickey testified.

Ultimately, the decision on a cover story was agreed upon, Hickey said.

Detectives, if asked, were to tell authorities that Burke, while at the Fourth Precinct, had gone "to pop his head in to see if he recognized" Loeb from the neighborhood, Hickey said.

"Burke said it, and McPartland okayed it," he said. 

Police style

In July 2013, Hickey testified, he met Burke in a park near Hickey's home.

"Did you get out of the car?" Gatz asked.

"We met car-to-car," Hickey said, "police style."

Jurors and spectators alike laughed.

It was one of the few light moments during Hickey's testimony.

In the house

Hickey said there was plentiful discussion on whether the Loeb case would have to be given to a special prosecutor, given the close relationship between Spota and Burke.

"That was not something that any of us wanted," Hickey said, in describing discussions between himself, Burke, Spota and McPartland.

"We didn't want a special prosecutor," he testified, “ … we wanted to keep it in the house."

After Spota ended up seeking a special prosecutor anyway, Hickey testified, the decision was made to have William Madigan, Suffolk's former chief of detectives, act as liaison between the county and the special prosecutor.

But Madigan was given other instructions as well, according to Hickey.

"He would monitor all interactions with the special prosecutor and report back," Hickey testified.

Fingerprints

At one point, in talking to Hickey, Burke said he was worried about a DVD that police had taken as evidence from Loeb's home.

"Burke was worried about his fingerprints being on a pornographic DVD that was seized," Hickey testified.

An earlier witness, former prosecutor Spiros Moustakas, testified about a meeting with Spota, McPartland and Emily Constant, Spota's chief deputy, during which Spota and Constant discussed "whether there would be fingerprints on it."

Who cares?

Hickey said Spota and McPartland repeatedly asked about how detectives were holding up.

At one point Gatz asked whether they had asked him about his detectives before.

"Neither of them ever asked me about my guys, nor cared," Hickey said.

"Objection," said Larry Krantz, McPartland's lead attorney.

U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack sustained the objection, saying, “ ‘Nor cared' will be stricken."

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