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Former N.Y. Justice Indicted on Bribery ChargesFormer New York Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of attempted extortion and attempted bribery for allegedly soliciting payments from a lawyer who was practicing before him in 2003. Spargo, who was removed from the bench after a state conduct commission investigation in 2006, was accused of shaking down lawyers to make contributions to a defense fund that he said he wanted to establish to fight earlier investigations by the commission.
New York Law Journal2008-12-11 12:00:00 AM
Former New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges of attempted extortion and attempted bribery for allegedly soliciting payments from a lawyer who was practicing before him in 2003.
A Northern District of New York grand jury indictment charged Spargo with one count of attempted extortion for allegedly pressuring an Ulster County attorney to give $10,000 to Spargo, who was then a judge. He also was charged with one count of attempted bribery for allegedly intending to use "his official actions and influence to the benefit" of the Ulster County attorney if paid or, conversely, to harm the attorney if not paid, according to the indictment.
Neither Spargo nor his attorney, E. Stewart Jones of Troy, N.Y., immediately returned calls seeking comment Wednesday.
U.S. Justice Department officials said the case is being prosecuted by Richard C. Pilger and M. Kendall Day, trial attorneys with the public integrity section of the department's Criminal Division in Washington, D.C. The FBI in Albany investigated the case.
Laura Sweeney, Department of Justice spokeswoman in Washington, said Spargo will be arraigned in Northern District federal court at a later date, possibly early next week.
Sweeney said it is not unusual in public integrity cases for prosecutions to be handled from Washington rather than through a local U.S. Attorney's Office.
Spargo's alleged 2003 solicitations were at the heart of a state Commission on Judicial Conduct investigation that led to that panel's unanimous recommendation in 2006 that he be removed from the bench.
Spargo, an election law specialist with close ties to the state Republican Party, was elected to Supreme Court in the 3rd Judicial District in 2001. He was previously a town court justice in Albany County.
In the removal determination, Spargo was accused of shaking down lawyers to make contributions to the defense fund he said he wanted to establish to fight earlier investigations by the conduct commission. At one point in 2003, Spargo estimated that the legal fight against the commission had cost him $140,000.
The commission found that Spargo invited Ulster County attorney Bruce Blatchly into his chambers in November 2003 and, after asking his clerk to leave, told the lawyer that he wanted $30,000 from members of the local bar. Blatchly, who said he did not contribute, was the only person who presented evidence to the commission that Spargo was directly involved in soliciting funds.
The commission also contended that Blatchly was asked by Sanford Rosenblum, an Albany attorney who is close to Spargo, for a $10,000 donation to Spargo's defense fund.
Spargo, 65, vehemently denied before the commission that he asked any attorneys for money.
Wednesday's indictment does not identify the lawyer who allegedly gave Spargo $10,000, other than as "an Ulster County attorney practicing before him."
As grounds for its removal recommendation against Spargo, the commission cited the alleged shakedown of Blatchly as well as Spargo's handing out drinks, food and convenience store coupons while campaigning for the Supreme Court in 2001.
It also found he committed misconduct by not disclosing when hearing cases involving the Albany County district attorney's office that he once represented the district attorney and was still owed $10,000 by him.
Robert H. Tembeckjian, administrator of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, declined to comment Wednesday on the indictment of Spargo, citing the pending nature of the prosecution.
Blatchly did not immediately return a call for comment.