Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota faces Federal charges as controversies spread within New York's judicial system

A crisis in confidence in the judicial system


District Attorney Thomas Spota III (D-Suffolk County) announced that he was retiring from his post one day after he and Christopher McPartland, the Chief of Investigations and Chief of the Government Corruption Bureau for the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, were named in a Federal Grand Jury Indictment unsealed this week by the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district. In a Court hearing, both men had pleaded not guilty to the four Courts identified in the Indictment.

Alan Vinegrad and Larry Krantz, attorneys for the charged Defendants, did not answer requests for interviews for this report.

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The charges brought against District Attorney Spota and Chief of Investigations McPartland follow Federal charges brought against James Burke, the former Police Chief for Suffolk County, who was sentenced to 46 months in prison for having violated in 2012 the civil rights of a man in police custody, according to a 2016 report published by The New York Times. The four Counts of charges, which included witness tampering and obstruction of justice, where brought against District Attorney Spota and Chief of Investigations McPartland in relation to an alleged cover-up of former Police Chief Burke's crimes, according to allegations in Paragraph 8 of the Federal Grand Jury Indictment.

The Indictment revealed that one year after former Police Chief Burke violated the civil rights of the man in police custody, Federal prosecutors commenced a Grand Jury Investigation of the crimes. The allegations being reportedly investigated by Federal prosecutors also included whether judgeships were for sale in Suffolk County, according to a separate 2106 report published by The New York Times.

The apparent countenancing of controversies

The aggressiveness with which the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is based in Brooklyn, is taking with respect to political and prosecutorial corruption on Long Island contrasts with the apparent countenancing of controversies with some of New York City District Attorneys' Offices and with the County court system in Queens.

In recent weeks, it has been revealed that District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. (D-Manhattan) had been accepting campaign contributions from defense attorneys, their law partners, or their law firms, at the same time when his office reportedly dropped charges of clients being represented by those defense attorneys. The pattern was revealed about reported investigations of First Family members Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., Hollywood media mogul Harvey Weinstein, and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City). Despite the appearance of conflicts of interest, no criminal investigation has been known to have been launch to determine whether corruption was a factor in the exchange of campaign donations for dropped charges.

In recent months, it has been revealed that questions exist about the political influence wielded by a Queens law firm, Sweeney, Reich & Bolz, LLP, and about how the attorneys, Gerard Sweeney, Michael Reich, and Frank Bolz, are referred cases before the Surrogate's Court, are able to gate-keep political primary races, or are able to exercise discretion over which judicial candidates receive support from the Queens County Democratic Committee. Despite the allegations of undue influence, no criminal investigation has been known to have been launched to determine whether the undue influence alleged rises to the level of corruption.

And in a petition filed in a short-lived case before New York State Supreme Court for Queens County alleged criminality on the part of the committee to reëlect City Councilmember Paul Vallone (D-Bayside). According to information obtained by Progress Queens, there was concern whether the petitioner in that case, reform candidate Paul Graziano, would be able to receive justice from the Queens County court system, given the influence that the Queens County Democratic Committee is able to allegedly exert over the Queens County court system. But, when Mr. Graziano dropped his case due to the prohibitive cost of litigating, it remained unclear whether any prosecutorial office -- Federal or Municipal -- would launch an investigation into the allegations of criminality in the petition.

Faith in the judicial system has been shaken

Despite the growing crisis in confidence in the integrity of the District Attorneys' Offices and in the Queens County court system, the Federal prosecutors' offices, which are based in Brooklyn and Manhattan, have not indicated any willingness to probe allegations of unethical conduct, much less unexplained inaction, by the District Attorneys' Offices of New York City. In respect of inaction by the District Attorneys' Offices of New York City, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara described corruption in New York as "systemic," but former U.S. Attorney Bharara never addressed the issue of why District Attorneys' Offices never probed such "systemic" corruption, not even after reports that County committees of political parties were taking action to remove independent judges from the ballot in Manhattan and in Brooklyn.

Faith in the judicial system have also been shaken by questions raised about Federal judicial system. Federal prosecutors dropped an investigation into allegations of campaign finance irregularities by Charles Hynes, the former Brooklyn District Attorney. There was no reported investigation of the no-bid contract given to a friend of former New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton. Federal prosecutors have seemed unwilling to bring civil rights violations charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer, who applied a deadly chokehold to Eric Garner in July 2015. The cause of death was ruled as a homicide by the Medical Examiner's Office. Separately, in civil litigation against the U.S. Attorneys' Offices in both Brooklyn and in Manhattan, which are acting as counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice, the publisher of Progress Queens has raised questions of unethical behaviour by Federal attorneys, leading to the filing of ethics complaints with legal oversight boards. In the most recent civil case, the publisher of Progress Queens has alleged that the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl has demonstrated judicial bias against the publisher of Progress Queens. And when Federal and State prosecutors reportedly reached the framework of an agreement to settle a Federal voting rights act violation case against the New York City Board of Elections over a purge of the voter rolls, the news report broadcast by WNYC 93.9 FM remained silent about whether the political party apparatus, which controls the Board of Elections, would face any criminal consequence after the Board of Elections admitted that they violated Federal voting rights laws, indicative that the media is complicit in keeping voters in the dark about how Federal Court cases stop short of effecting criminal accountability for Federal voting rights violations.

The only notable action taken by Federal prosecutors in respect of rooting out at least some of the corruption at the District Attorneys' Offices of New York City, have been for low-level crimes, such as conducting illegal wiretaps and forgery, as was the case in which such charges were brought against Tara Lenich, and for bribery and conspiracy, as was the case in which such charges were brought against John Chambers, each former Assistant District Attorneys in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office.

Federal inaction in the face of alleged corruption is more widespread than reported. For this report, the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district made no response to a question for comment about how there is a pattern of no legal consequence to real estate developers allegedly attempting to engage in corruption with public officials by using New York City Government agencies as tenants in commercial buildings. This pattern was revealed in a prior report published by Progress Queens, and this pattern was highlighted in a report published by POLITICO New York of courtroom testimony by de Blasio donor Jona Rechnitz, who testified that he was contemplating such a scheme. In the past, the real estate development company Tishman Speyer constructed an office building in Long Island City, Queens, that was leased to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Mayor de Blasio has himself recommended using City agencies as tenants to spur commercial building development in East New York, Brooklyn.

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