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Timeline of Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s career

Thomas Spota at the District Attorney's office in

Thomas Spota at the District Attorney's office in Riverhead on March 23, 1982. Credit: Newsday / Bob Luckey

  • 1971-1982: Serves as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County. Includes stint as chief of homicide bureau, where he prosecuted high-profile cases, including the murder of 13-year-old John Pius in Smithtown. That case featured teenage witness and later Spota protégé James Burke, who would go on to work as Spota’s chief investigator before becoming Suffolk police’s chief of department in 2012.
  • 1982-2001: Works in private practice. Gains political prominence representing county law enforcement unions.
  • 2001: Switches party affiliation from Republican to Democrat to run for Suffolk district attorney against longtime Republican DA James Catterson. After bruising campaign, Spota wins by a large margin.
  • 2003: Releases grand jury report on sexual abuse by 58 priests in the Diocese of Rockville Centre dating back decades. Wins national attention for issuing one of the first such reports in the country.
  • 2005: Wins first re-election, without an opponent and endorsed by all major and minor parties.
  • 2006: Wins conviction of Islip Town Supervisor Peter McGowan, a Republican, on corruption charges stemming from illegal use of $1.2 million campaign fund.
  • 2009: Wins second re-election, again without an opponent and endorsed by all major and minor parties.
  • 2011: Brokers deal with County Executive Steve Levy that results in Levy not seeking a third term and turning over his $4 million campaign war chest to Spota’s office. In exchange, Spota closes a criminal investigation into Levy’s fundraising. Neither Spota nor Levy has ever provided a detailed explanation of the agreement.
  • 2013: The state’s highest court rules that Suffolk’s 12-year term limit does not apply to the district attorney’s office, allowing Spota to run for a fourth term. He again receives cross-endorsements from all major parties, defeats a GOP primary challenger and wins re-election.
  • 2014: Secures guilty plea of Suffolk information technology commissioner Donald Rodgers on misdemeanor counts related to his failing to disclose business interests on his county financial disclosure form and his work on a multimillion-dollar county software deal.
  • 2014: Begins investigating then-Babylon Democratic chairman Robert Stricoff for alleged irregularities in campaign committee expenses. He later refers the case to the state Board of Elections.
  • 2015: His protégé Burke is charged by federal prosecutors with beating a man who had broken into his SUV and then orchestrating a departmentwide cover-up. Burke pleaded guilty and later is sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.
  • 2016: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone stands on the steps of Spota’s office and asks for his resignation, saying Spota was heading a “criminal enterprise” that used the prosecutor’s office to punish enemies and protect friends. Spota accuses Bellone of having a “personal vendetta against me for investigating and prosecuting people he is close to.”
  • 2016: Newsday reports that federal prosecutors had opened a criminal investigation into the actions of Spota’s office, including handling of the Levy and Burke cases, those involving Stricoff and Rodgers, and a 2011 shooting of an unarmed cabdriver by an off-duty Nassau police officer who had been drinking heavily and was never charged. Spota has denied wrongdoing.
  • May 12, 2017: Spota announces he will not seek a fifth term.

Compiled by Paul LaRocco

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