Powerful ex-prosecutor on trial for police beating cover-up

NEW YORK (AP) — A powerful former prosecutor in the New York suburbs is going on trial this week for allegedly helping cover for a former protege who, as police chief, punched a handcuffed man suspected of stealing embarrassing items from his police department SUV.

Thomas Spota, the longtime district attorney of Suffolk County, Long Island, is accused of conspiring with the police chief and a top deputy in the DA’s office to pressure witnesses to not cooperate with an FBI investigation into the 2012 assault.

According to federal prosecutors, Spota considered anyone cooperating with the investigation into then-Chief James Burke a “rat”, demanded that a police officer find out who was cooperating and threatened that informants “would never work in Suffolk County again”.

Spota and Burke had a kinship that dated to the ex-chief’s teenage years in the late 1970s, when he was a star witness in a murder case that Spota was prosecuting.

Spota later hired Burke to work in his office as an investigator, promoted him to chief investigator and vouched for him when he was appointed chief of the police department, one of the largest suburban forces in the country with 2,500 officers.

Spota, now 78, and the former chief of his anti-corruption bureau, Christopher McPartland, 53, are going on trial two years after they were indicted on witness tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges.

Opening statements are scheduled for today. The trial, at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, Long Island, is expected to take about four weeks.

Both men have pleaded not guilty and are free on USD500,000 bond each. Their lawyers have said they deny all allegations of wrongdoing. Spota’s lawyer, Alan Vinegrad, said after the October 2017 arraignment that the former district attorney “looks forward to vindicating himself in court”.

The criminal charges hastened Spota’s exit from office after 16 years as the top prosecutor in Suffolk County, the bigger of Long Island’s two suburban counties with about 1.5 million residents.

Then-Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, (R) and his attorney Alan Vinegrad leaving the courthouse in Central Islip. PHOTO: AP