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Sources: Thomas Spota hires Manhattan lawyer Alan Vinegrad

Defense lawyer Alan Vinegrad, left, is seen in

Defense lawyer Alan Vinegrad, left, is seen in Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, along with William Rapfogel. Credit: POOL / Jefferson Siegel

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has hired a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District to represent him in the ongoing investigation by that office into possible illegal activities by law enforcement in the county, according to sources.

The attorney Spota has hired, Alan Vinegrad, a widely acclaimed defense counsel, was head of the Eastern District for 15 months in 2001 and 2002, and now is a partner in the Washington-based law firm Covington and Burling.

Among other partners in the firm is Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s former Attorney General.

There is nothing untoward in hiring a former top Justice Department official to represent oneself in a case before the department. Spota has not been accused of any crimes.

Spota was the focus of a court filing Tuesday in which federal prosecutors said he actively hampered an investigation by Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco into the possible illegal activities of Suffolk County Conservative Party leader Edward Walsh. Spota was not accused of criminal wrongdoing in the filing.

Walsh is scheduled to go on trial next week in federal court in Central Islip on charges of illegally collecting more than $80,000 in pay. He has pleaded not guilty.

Vinegrad was not the first defense counsel Spota has hired in the course of the federal investigation.

When the investigation into Suffolk County began with Spota’s protégé, former Suffolk police Chief of Department James Burke a year ago, as a target, the district attorney was initially represented by another well-known and respected criminal defense attorney, Steven Scaring, of Garden City. But Scaring bowed out because he was involved in a conflict of interest, the sources said,

Vinegrad, who grew up in East Meadow, was a longtime assistant prosecutor in the Eastern District office before becoming interim U.S. attorney.

Neither Vinegrad nor Robert Clifford, Spota’s spokesman, returned phone calls and emails requesting comment. Scaring declined to comment when reached by telephone.

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