Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who was indicted just over a week ago on charges that he covered up a police chief’s beating of a suspect, remains in office despite having pledged to resign.
Spota, who first took office in 2002, was indicted on Oct. 25 alongside Christopher McPartland, his anti-corruption prosecutor, on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to tamper with a witness, witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding.
They are accused of taking steps to silence co-conspirators and witnesses to a 2012 incident in which James Burke, who was then chief of the Suffolk County Police Department, and other officers assaulted a man who was in custody for allegedly breaking into Burke’s car.
In 2013, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York launched a grand jury investigation into the assault. The indictment against Spota and McPartland states that they pressured witnesses into lying to investigators and giving false and incomplete testimony to grand jurors.
Spota and McPartland pleaded not guilty and Spota released a statement the day after the indictment in which he said he would “resign after earliest opportunity after the resolution of normal administrative matters relating to my retirement.” At that point, the statement reads, Emily Constant, Spota’s chief assistant, will assume control of the office.
But Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said it is “absurd” that Spota would need to keep going into the office to take care of matters relating to his retirement and said his presence there is causing “chaos and dysfunction.”
“You don’t need to be in the office to meet with your retirement consultant,” Bellone said. He said there is work ahead for him and other county leaders to “sweep out the culture of corruption” in the DA’s office.
“The process of rebuilding that office, and the trust and faith in it, cannot begin until Thomas Spota and Christopher McPartland are no longer there,” Bellone said.
Spota’s attorney, Alan Vinegrad of Covington & Burling, did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to the Law Journal, Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Spota’s office, said the office is functioning normally and that characterizations of the office being in disarray are “fiction.”
Clifford also echoed Spota’s statement that he plans to resign after he has handled administrative matters related to his retirement and that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been informed of his plan.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Durham and Lara Gatz of the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case against Spota and McPartland.
In May, while his office was under investigation, Spota said he would not seek re-election this month. Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner Tim Sini, a Democrat; and criminal defense attorney Ray Perini, a Republican, are vying to succeed Spota.
While Spota is still in office, Bellone said, county officials’ options for removing Spota are limited to using the bully pulpit to call him out for remaining in office. But in the case of McPartland, Bellone said, the Suffolk County Legislature could vote to remove him from office.