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Feds: Lawyer plotted to bribe trial witness in Suffolk murder case

Defense attorney John Scarpa at state Supreme Court

Defense attorney John Scarpa at state Supreme Court in Riverhead in March 2015. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have charged a Queens-based defense lawyer with bribing a witness in an effort to alter the outcome of a notorious 2015 Suffolk County gang-related double-murder trial that involved the execution of a construction flagman who had “disrespected” the killer.

Lawyer John Scarpa, 65, of Hauppauge, represented defendant Reginald Ross, a Crips leader from Yaphank ultimately convicted in Suffolk Supreme Court of the 2010 murders of flagman Raymond Hirt and John Williams, whose killing was designed to lure a friend who owed Ross drug money back to New York.

In the charges filed Tuesday, prosecutors said Scarpa and a co-defendant, middleman Charles Gallman, 56, of Queens, plotted to bribe Luis Cherry, a witness who had pleaded guilty to participating in the Williams murder, to perjure himself at the Ross trial.

After Gallman visited Cherry in prison, according to a wiretap quoted by the government, he told Scarpa, “Anything we need, he’s willing. Whichever way you wanna play it, he’s willing.” He later allegedly added, “Whatever you need, John. Whatever you need.”

According to the indictment, Scarpa then called Cherry as a defense witness and led him through false testimony in which he said he committed the Williams murder alone.

Cherry falsely tried to explain away previous confessions implicating Ross, prosecutors said, as well as evidence that two different guns and Ross’ car were used in the ambush on Williams, and falsely denied discussing the case with Gallman without interruption from Scarpa, who knew otherwise.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said the charges in the new indictment show federal officials “will never tolerate the rigging of a trial and will vigorously prosecute attorneys or anyone else who seeks to undermine the integrity of the judicial process by witness tampering.”

Scarpa lawyer Thomas Kenniff said, “There are few callings more sacred than representing the rights of the accused. For 36 years Mr. Scarpa has carried that duty with dignity, integrity and zeal. We’re confident… he will be fully exonerated and his reputation will be restored.”

A lawyer for Gallman did not return a call for comment.

Government court filings said the case stemmed from a Queens County investigation of witness bribery and case-fixing involving Gallman, described as a five-time convicted felon who participated in two murders. In that probe, his cellphone was wiretapped in 2014 and 2015.

Gallman, prosecutors said, used his “reputation and his connections in the criminal underworld” to intimidate witnesses and “undermine prosecutions” and “no criminal defense attorney worked closer with Gallman than Scarpa.” A spokesman for Donoghue had no comment on why it took three years to bring charges.

The new indictment superseded an indictment filed in March against Scott Brettschneider, another Queens lawyer, Gallman and others, which alleged they were part of a scheme to fabricate a letter to get a Brettschneider client out of prison based on a phony claim he needed drug rehab.

Gallman is currently in prison in that case. Scarpa was arrested Tuesday, pleaded not guilty in a brief appearance in Brooklyn federal court, and was released on $500,000 bail secured by his Hauppauge home. He was not restricted from continuing to practice law.

In a 17-page memo seeking a high bail in the case, prosecutors said that in order to get Cherry — who was serving a 62-year prison sentence — to lie, Gallman and Scarpa promised to talk-up his criminal reputation to counter perceptions that he had ratted on Ross to improve his status in prison.

In addition to arranging perjurious testimony from Cherry in the Suffolk murder trial, prosecutors said, Scarpa also called a sister-in-law of Ross as an alibi witness on the Hirt killing. She testified she had a 3.897 GPA at Stetson Law School, but had never attended law school at all, they said.

In closing arguments, the government said, Scarpa faulted prosecutors for the “procurement” of incriminating testimony based on promised benefits to witnesses, which he called “repugnant, and if engaged in by the defense, would certainly be illegal.”

Scarpa’s efforts on behalf of Ross, then 33, were unavailing. Justice William Condon found him guilty on two counts of second-degree murder after a three-month bench trial.

Scarpa and Gallman are each charged with conspiracy and racketeering. They each face up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutor Lindsay Gerdes said the investigation is continuing.

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