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Spota pays the piper

A federal jury on Tuesday convicted former Suffolk

A federal jury on Tuesday convicted former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and one of his ex-chief aides, Christopher McPartland, of felony charges related to the attempted cover-up of a 2012 prisoner beating by Spota's longtime protege, former Police Chief James Burke.

Daily Point

A history of crime

Thomas Spota, who was convicted on Tuesday of felony charges related to the cover-up of a prisoner beating, is not the first former Long Island district attorney to be found guilty by a federal jury. 

He follows Nassau’s William Cahn, who was convicted of mail fraud in 1976, back when federal trials were held in Brooklyn, in a case involving double-billing Nassau County and law enforcement organizations for travel expenses. 

Cahn claimed he used approximately $20,000 in the double-billing funds to pay “Sam Houston,” an organized crime informant, but the prosecution alleged no such person existed and the money was used to pay gambling debts. 

Both Spota and Cahn served for more than a decade as their county’s top law enforcement officer. Their cases stemmed from larger investigations — into Nassau County politics for Cahn, and into Suffolk County policing for Spota. But there were differences. Cahn already had lost election in 1974 by the time he was indicted. Spota was in office when he was charged with involvement in a cover-up of an assault by his protégé, former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke. However, Spota decided not to seek re-election in 2017. 

Cahn appeared as his own defense attorney, while Spota enlisted the services of Alan Vinegrad, former interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District.

As for the outcome: Cahn’s first trial ended in a mistrial. The next time around, he was found guilty after seven hours of jury deliberation. Cahn was sentenced to a year and a day and served 6 months at Allenwood Prison Camp in Pennsylvania, according to news stories at the time. He was disbarred and worked as a private investigator before his death in 2013. 

For Spota, it only took one trial. The guilty verdict came quickly in the cavernous Central Islip federal complex, on day two of deliberations.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

A capital plan in flux

With about two weeks to go before the end of the year, there’s not much time for the Capital Program Review Board to evaluate the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $51.5 billion five-year plan to upgrade its equipment and infrastructure.

The board’s four members, who represent the State Senate, the State Assembly, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, don’t even have to approve the plan. They could do nothing, and it would constitute a “yes.” But a single veto would send the plan back to the MTA.

So far, it’s unclear whether that will happen.

Part of the problem is that the board’s membership is in flux, as two of the nominated board members were never approved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. After days of asking the governor’s office, The Point still wasn’t able to even confirm who’s officially part of the CPRB.

A City Hall spokeswoman confirmed to The Point that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nominee, Sherif Soliman, was never approved by the governor. And State Sen. John Liu, a representative from Queens who was Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ nominee, confirmed that Cuomo never approved his nomination, either. According to Liu, if his nomination doesn’t go through, the State Senate’s board spot should default to Stewart-Cousins. And that would mean de Blasio would serve as the city’s representative if Soliman isn’t appointed. Cuomo said in an October radio interview that he’d prefer the principals, including himself, serve on the board. 

Even as the board’s membership remains uncertain, Liu said state senators have discussed the MTA capital plan — and still have concerns.

“There’s a fair amount of dissatisfaction with the plan,” Liu told The Point. “There are a number of options that the members of the CPRB have, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins is weighing those options for us.”

Liu said state senators have raised significant questions, including whether the MTA will have adequate accountability, whether there are appropriate benchmarks, and whether the authority can handle such a large and significant plan over the next five years.

The board’s Assembly representative, Michael Benedetto, seemed more positive about the capital plan, although he told The Point that there are some “adjustments” the Assembly would like to make.

“But in the end, we always come down to an agreement,” said Benedetto, who represents parts of the Bronx.

The MTA submitted its capital plan to the CPRB in October, starting a 90-day clock that officially ends on Jan. 2. Benedetto said he expects the decision-making won’t happen until “just before the deadline.”

It’s unclear whether the CPRB can operate without full membership. Oddly, the CPRB is not a board whose members usually confer or meet, several sources told The Point. Instead, each individual member often consults with the person who appointed him or her before deciding how to vote. 

Legislation passed in the last session requires CPRB members, for the first time, to provide an explanation for any veto. 

The last time a capital plan came before the CPRB, the State Senate representative at the time, Martin Golden, held it up because of concerns about the Long Island Rail Road third-track project. Liu said no one expects anyone to hold up the plan in a way that would hurt Long Island.

“With absolute certainty, Long Island will never be worse off,” Liu said. “No one is getting in the way of [the LIRR’s needs]. Everybody understands how critical that is.” 

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Nixon's warning

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Final Point

Charity for Trump

Impeachment: just another way to fundraise. 

Among the hundreds of Facebook fundraising pleas that President Donald Trump’s campaign has run in recent days are requests to sign the Trump family Christmas card. There’s the offer of a 2020 Trump Calendar with photos “hand-selected by our AMAZING First Lady.”

And then there’s fire and brimstone. The campaign is running various versions of an ad imploring people to donate to the “IMPEACHMENT DEFENSE FUND.” 

The tactic isn’t new but its endurance this close to actual impeachment is — a House vote is expected Wednesday.

The ad boasts a video where Trump goes even further than he did in his rambling six-page Tuesday letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which he compares impeachment to the Salem witch trials. 

“This isn’t impeachment, this is a coup, intended to take away the power of the people,” he says in the video. He adds that “they” want to take away a list of things, including “your religion, your military, your border wall.”

The text includes a link to donate and different taglines including “NO MORE BS! READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” and “WHEN WILL IT END?!”

The sentiment is a well-honed sense of indignation that underlies the Pelosi letter, too.  “It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!” Trump wrote in the Tuesday missive, cc’d to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

But the ads have the added benefit of turning grievance into money, and clearly the president’s campaign is banking on social media users reaching into their pockets. Last week, Trump’s Facebook page spent more than $600,000 on Facebook ads alone, many of them regarding fundraising.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano