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The disgraced former New York prosecutor who helped cover up the jailhouse beating of a man who stole items including a duffel bag containing sex toys from a local police chief — whose name was dragged into the unsolved Long Island Serial Killer case — was sentenced to five years in prison this week.
Thomas Spota, 79, and his top aide, 55-year-old Christopher McPartland, were handed their sentences on Tuesday by a federal judge following their December 2019 convictions on conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and civil rights violation charges related to a vast cover-up of the beating of a suspected thief by Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke in 2012. Spota was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
“This was not a momentary moral lapse but years of criminal cover-up,” U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack said at sentencing on Tuesday.
Spota told Azrack that his prosecution was the lowest point in his life and that he believes it will be his legacy after a long career as a respected prosecutor. The septuagenarian said he hopes not to “die in prison alone.” Prosecutors made the case for both men to spend eight years behind bars, telling the court that in covering up a top police officer’s crime, they were doing “the exact opposite” of their jobs.
In 2012, Long Island resident Christopher Loeb had been arrested after being accused of breaking into Burke’s department-issued SUV and stealing his gun belt, ammunition, and a duffel bag, which contained “cigars, sex toys, prescription Viagra and pornography,” prosecutors said.
After learning of Loeb’s apprehension, federal authorities say Burke rushed to the police station where he found Loeb “handcuffed, hunched over and manacled to the floor” and began beating him. The chief “shook Loeb’s head violently, punched him in the head and body and attempted to knee Loeb,” according to court documents. He then ordered that multiple high-ranking commanders in the Suffolk County Police Department ensure “officers who had witnessed the assault would never reveal what they had observed.”
Spota was recruited into the conspiracy at this point, along with McPartland, who was then the chief of investigations of an anti-corruption bureau. At trial, an officer testified for the government about a 2015 meeting at Spota’s office, where he explained that as federal investigators began probing Loeb’s beating for a second time, Spota asked him to find out if anyone who was aware of the attack had “flipped.”
“Somebody’s talking. You better find out fast, if it’s not too late,” Spota said, the officer testified.
Burke, a long-time protégé of Spota, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to depriving a person of civil rights and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice.
Amid this cover-up, Burke became connected to the ongoing “Long Island Serial Killer” case, which involves the murders of at least 10 people, mostly female sex workers, who have been found dead on Long Island over a nearly 20-year period. This includes the so-called "Gilgo Four," young women whose bodies were found in late 2010 within a quarter of a mile of each other near Gilgo Beach on Long Island’s south shore.
Just after Burke began his sentence in December 2016, a 30-year-old woman, identified as Leanne, came forward at a news conference where she claimed Burke had paid her for sex during a house party in the same area where victim Shannan Gilbert had disappeared. She said she’d seen Burke at a cocaine-fueled party in Oak Beach in June 2011, where she “observed [Burke] pull a woman by her hair to the ground,” according to the New York Post.
An attorney representing the family of Gilbert, whose body was found in 2011, said at the news conference this was the first time Burke had been connected to the area and prostitution. Burke’s attorney, Joseph Conway, responded by saying that “allegations that James Burke had any involvement in the Gilgo Beach murders is completely outrageous.”
As chief of the SCPD, Burke had been involved in the Gilgo Beach investigations, and in fact, had fired Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominic Varrone in late 2011 — just two days after Gilbert’s body was found. Varrone told New York station PIX11 in 2019 that he believed this hindered the investigation, calling his sacking “a little bit of a dropping of the baton.”
Nevertheless, Varrone said he does not believe that Burke should be considered a suspect in the LISK murders.
“I don’t think the killer would reside in Oak Beach and dispose of bodies so close,” Varrone said. “This is a dumping area.”
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