Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and his chief of investigations, Christopher McPartland, were indicted Wednesday for their alleged role in attempting to cover up an assault by former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Spota and McPartland were charged with four counts, including witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to do the same. According to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde, the two Suffolk County officials, alongside Burke and other members of the SCPD, attempted to conceal an investigation by the Eastern District and the FBI into a December 2012 assault on a detained suspect by Burke and others.
The suspect, Christopher Loeb, was arrested for allegedly breaking into Burke’s police vehicle. At the station he was handcuffed to the floor and beaten. After the assault, he confessed to the burglary, but later recanted, and accused Burke of assaulting him.
Burke ultimately pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations, as well as conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice charges for the attempted cover-up. In November he was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.
The investigation into the beating quickly turned into an investigation into the alleged cover-up. In April 2013, federal authorities say they initiated a grand jury investigation into the beating. Early on, reports of the investigation indicated Spota and McPartland were in federal authorities’ sights.
According to federal authorities, Burke, Spota, McPartland and others used their positions in the police department and DA’s office to intimidate, threaten and pressure multiple witnesses—including co-conspirators—in an attempt to keep them from cooperating with federal investigators. Witnesses were pushed to provide false information, including while testifying under oath, as well as withhold information from investigators about the assault on Loeb.
“Prosecutors swear oaths to pursue justice and enforce the law. Instead of upholding their oaths, these defendants allegedly abused the power of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, attempted to cover up the assault of an in-custody defendant, and attempted to thwart a federal grand jury investigation,” Rohde said in a statement. “Abuses of power by law enforcement authorities cannot and will not be tolerated. There are serious consequences to such actions.”
Spota announced in May he would not seek re-election as district attorney.
In a bail letter to U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler of the Eastern District of New York, the government asked for “significant” secured bonds and “stringent conditions” of pretrial release of Spota and McPartland.
“There is a serious risk that the defendants will continue to obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, and continue to threaten, intimidate or attempt to threaten or intimidate prospective witnesses without these conditions,” the letter, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Gatz, stated. Gatz is heading up the case for the government.
Wexler also oversaw Burke’s trial. The government filed a motion for related case designation with the Burke case.
A spokesman for the Suffolk County DA’s Office, Robert Clifford, could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Covington & Burling partner Alan Vinegrad is representing Spota. He could not be immediately reached for comment. Vinegrad previously served as the interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District from 2001 to 2002.
Krantz & Berman name attorney Larry Krantz, who is counsel for McPartland, said in a statement that his client “vehemently denies the charges and asserts his innocence.”
“Chris McPartland has always been an honest and dedicated public servant,” Krantz said. “He looks forward to his day in court.”