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Spota, McPartland took control of law and order in Suffolk, prosecutor says

Christopher McPartland, left, and Thomas Spota on Nov.

Christopher McPartland, left, and Thomas Spota on Nov. 20. Credit: Composite: John Roca

For the prosecution

Over four hours, Lara Treinis Gatz laid out, in exacting detail, the government's case against Thomas Spota and Christopher McPartland — painting them not just as individuals, but heads of an organized power center dubbed "The Administration," which at one point successfully took control of law and order in Suffolk County.

And when one of their own, James Burke, former Suffolk police chief of department, needed help, Gatz told jurors, "The Administration" heeded the call. And not just to protect Burke.

"You know why they did it," Gatz told jurors Wednesday. "They did it to protect their fiefdom, their kingdom."

"They had just taken over the county, achieved their master plan," she said. "And the federal investigation threatened to destroy all they had worked for and accomplished."

"One of them was in trouble, and so all of them were in trouble," she told jurors.

"They had to do whatever it took to protect their interests," she said.

"They did it to protect Jimmy," she said. "They did it to protect ‘The Administration.’ ”

A brief history

Spota, Gatz said, was an integral part of Burke's rise in the police department from the beginning.

"Even a cursory review of Burke's personnel file reveals he was unqualified to be a police officer," she told jurors. "He had a history of drug use, and a conviction for driving under the influence."

But still he rose.

"Promoting Burke, defending Burke, protecting Burke — all was done with Spota's eyes wide open," Gatz said.

"Spota was directly responsible for Burke climbing four ranks in the Suffolk police department in three years without Burke ever leaving the DA's office," she said.

By 2003, Spota was county district attorney, Burke had been assigned to his office and McPartland had been brought on as head of Spota's government corruption unit.

"All the pieces were in place," Gatz said. "But there was a problem."

"There was a not-so-friendly county executive, Steve Levy, running Suffolk, who was viewed as anti-cop" and had a police commissioner who "was fiercely loyal to Levy."

Gatz continued, "but then in 2011, anti-cop County Executive Levy decided not to seek another term, which opened up the county executive spot for a newcomer, Steve Bellone."

Gatz did not tell jurors why Levy, a popular county executive who likely would have won a third term, decided in 2011 against seeking reelection. The decision came after an investigation by Spota's government corruption bureau. To this day, there has been no public explanation of exactly what Levy was alleged to have done or why Spota's office decided to have him return campaign donations as opposed to facing any charges.

Still, Levy was gone — which left an opening that Bellone filled upon taking office in 2012.

Bellone, in turn, appointed Burke as police chief — even before he had selected the police commissioner who would, on paper at least, be Burke's boss.

"As of 2012, defendants Spota and McPartland were in charge of law in Suffolk County, and Jimmy Burke was in charge of order in Suffolk County," Gatz told jurors. "Meet ‘The Administration.’ ”

In the union

Among The Administration's supporters were Suffolk's three police unions, which generally represent officers, detectives and superior officers.

In trial testimony over five weeks, the names of several current and former union officials came up.

There were photographs of union officials on fishing trips with Bellone and Burke.

James Hickey, a former Suffolk detective lieutenant, testified that after he received a subpoena in 2015, he went straight to his union's office to see about getting a lawyer.

Hickey said he was surprised when, after about a half-hour, Burke walked in. Hickey said he had not called Burke, but later he found out that one of his union officials had.

In her summation, Gatz returned several times to the unions.

"In 2001, Tom Spota ran for Suffolk County DA with the backing of the three police unions and assistance from Jimmy Burke, and, of course, he won the election," Gatz said.

"Burke was feared because of his power, not just his power as chief of police," Gatz said at another point. “ … But he was even more powerful as the favorite of the DA and the chief of public corruption — and even more powerful because he had the unions in his pocket."

Gatz said Burke "seemed untouchable, invincible, unbeatable. A man you crossed at your own peril."

"Burke was backed by the law, order and the unions," she told jurors. “ … There was nowhere to turn."

The letter

Gatz returned to an anonymous letter about Burke's internal affairs record that was sent to the search committee Bellone had put together.

"It was sent to Kevin Law, head of the three-person committee tasked with searching for a new police commissioner," Gatz said.

It was "a committee, incidentally, of which Tom Spota's No. 2, Emily Constant, was a member," she said.

Spota's letter to the committee defending Burke "was a lie designed to protect and cover for Jimmy Burke," Gatz said.

The burglary

Burke was appointed chief in January 2012; that December, he assaulted Christopher Loeb, who had broken into his SUV and stolen a duffel bag.

"Burke had a prosecutor on retainer, his best friend, Christopher McPartland, who personally supervised the investigation into who broke into Burke's vehicle," Gatz told jurors. "After all, Burke and McPartland are members of 'The Administration' and that means they have each others' backs."

Gatz continued, "They are in full damage-control mode, they must protect Jimmy … this is what they do."

The assault

Gatz told jurors the Suffolk DA's office paid particular attention to drafting paperwork for a special prosecutor from Queens, who would handle the Loeb case.

"The affidavit is interesting because of what is not included," she told jurors. “ … Hey, where are the assault allegations? The affidavit doesn't contain a word about the assault allegations."

"But you know why," she said. "This information was intentionally omitted on purpose to protect Jimmy."

Gatz asked, "Do you think anyone in the Suffolk DA's office was going to give the Queens DA's office the green light to investigate Jimmy Burke? Not a snowball's chance in hell."

For the defense

But while Gatz concentrated on tying McPartland, Spota and Burke together, Larry Krantz, McPartland's lead attorney, in a summation of some 90 minutes concentrated on just two people: McPartland and Hickey, the government's key witness.

"Christopher McPartland is not only presumed to be innocent, he is actually innocent of these charges," Krantz told jurors. "He has not committed any of these crimes."

A summation by Spota's attorney, followed the government's rebuttal, is slated for Thursday.

"Christopher McPartland is not only presumed to be innocent, he is actually innocent of these charges," Krantz told jurors. "He has not committed any of these crimes."

"The evidence," he told jurors, "shows that he has been falsely accused by one man, James Hickey, who is desperate and not well."

Did not know

As for the government, Krantz said, "When they brought charges, I submit to you, they did not know the depths of Mr. Hickey's alcoholism."

"They want to keep that under the rug," he said, "because it hurts the case that they desperately want to win."

Soft drinks

As he promised in opening statements, Krantz hammered hard on Hickey's alcoholism, and a stay in the hospital for what doctors called an "altered mental status."

"The government has brought this case based on James Hickey's reality, they have drunk the Hickey Kool-Aid and they are asking you to drink the Hickey Kool-Aid, too," he said. "Whatever Hickey said is gospel."

"They are sticking to it," he said. "And anyone who says anything different, they will brand as a liar."

Defending Constant

From there, Krantz launched into a vociferous defense of Constant, whose credibility on several issues had been attacked by Gatz in her summation — as Constant, who testified under subpoena as a prosecution witness, sat watching the proceedings in the overflow courtroom down the hall.

"The government said she did nothing wrong," Krantz, who was visibly angry, told jurors. "She threw everything away and committed a crime in the courtroom?"

Top 10

At one point, Krantz showed a chart listing the names of all 30 prosecution witnesses on the courtroom's big screen.

He then showed another, with every name but Hickey's crossed out — to illustrate, he said, that Hickey's testimony was unsupported by that of other witnesses.

Another chart had the heading, "Top 10 Reasons Why James Hickey Simply Cannot Be Believed."

Krantz went through each and every reason — which boiled down to Hickey's credibility, or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

At one point — at several, actually — Krantz brought up Hickey's altered mental state, at one point asking whether a portion of his testimony was "a malevolent lie or a broken mind."

"Every meeting was obstruction," Krantz said, referring to Hickey's testimony about several meetings he said he had with McPartland, Spota or both, during which the Loeb case supposedly was discussed.

"Every day, it was obstruction, obstruction, obstruction," he said.

"Does that have the ring of truth?" he asked jurors.

"It is how life really works?"

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