By Rashed Mian and Spencer Rumsey
Standing on the steps of Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota’s office in Smithtown on Thursday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called on Spota to resign so the “culture of corruption” in Suffolk could be swept out.
Bellone’s demand comes after weeks, if not months, of rumors circulating through the county that the district attorney would resign while calls for his resignation have only grown louder in the Suffolk Legislature. So far, Spota has insisted he will remain in office.
On Thursday Bellone came armed with a letter he intended to hand-deliver to the district attorney, excoriating the district attorney for alleged improprieties that he said have mired Suffolk in a string of political scandals. Chief among them is Spota’s former investigator, ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, who recently pleaded guilty to beating up a suspect in custody and trying to cover it up.
“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement from working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and for conspiring to conceal his past…for violating your sacred oath and for using your position as the top law enforcement officer of this county, Tom Spota, you must resign from this office,” Bellone declared.
The county executive warned the county district attorney that if he does not quit before his term expires, he’d request that Gov. Andrew Cuomo use the power of his office to remove him.
Bellone intended to deliver a formal letter officially requesting Spota’s resignation to the district attorney but Spota was not available to accept it, Bellone’s spokeswoman said. No reason was given for Spota’s unavailability at the time.
Earlier this week three Republican members of the county legislature held a press conference in Riverhead to demand that both Bellone and Spota resign. Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said the county’s level of corruption was untenable.
“The people of Suffolk County have had enough of the corruption from County Executive Bellone and District Attorney Spota,” said McCaffrey, the minority leader of the Suffolk County Legislature, in a press statement. “It is time to restore trust in our government and for Bellone and Spota to step down.”
Spota, a Republican-turned-Democrat, was resoundingly first elected district attorney in 2001 following the divisive tenure of his three-term predecessor, DA James Catterson. In 2011 Spota drew scrutiny by forcing then-county executive Steve Levy, a Democrat-turned-Republican, to turn over his $4.1-million campaign war chest to the district attorney’s office and drop out of his re-election race. Spota never filed charges against the incumbent. Levy’s sole challenger was Bellone, then the Democratic supervisor of Babylon.
But Spota has since come under fire amid several high-profile investigations of close confidants in his office. Besides the scandal involving his protege, Burke, it has also emerged that Spota’s top corruption prosecutor, Christopher McPartland, is at the center of a federal grand jury probe, according to Newsday.
And it doesn’t stop here.
Spota was also identified in court documents in the federal fraud case against Suffolk County Conservative Party Chairman Ed Walsh as allegedly quashing several attempts by Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco to investigate Walsh, who was then a correction lieutenant in his department. The powerful political leader was eventually convicted of theft and fraud for conducting political activity and golfing when he was supposed to be at work in Riverhead.
DeMarco could credit Walsh’s political acumen for getting him elected sheriff, but he testified against his party boss at Walsh’s trial earlier this year. Last week, DeMarco also called upon Spota to resign.
Shortly after Bellone’s press conference, Spota held one of his own in his Hauppauge office and shot back at the county executive.
“As for Mr. Bellone, his call for my resignation is not based on anything but a personal vendetta against me, for investigating and prosecuting people that he’s close to,” Spota told reporters. “I’ve never said it before, but I will say it now, the county executive has made and did make in the past multiple personal pleas to me in the presence of other prosecutors not to investigate or prosecute people that he was close to.”
In a follow-up press conference, Bellone called Spota’s allegations “nonsense.”
“This is not Steve Bellone against Tom Spota,” the county executive told reporters. “Justice needs to be restored to this county.”
In his earlier remarks Thursday, Bellone criticized the political process that led to Spota’s re-election. The district attorney was repeatedly cross-endorsed by Democrats, Republicans and the Conservative Party as well as the Independence Party.
“Every time that happened we were supporting the corruption and the abuse that has happened in this office and that cannot go on,” Bellone said. “This must end. This culture of corruption, which perverts this government, which destroys lives, which undermines justice, cannot be allowed to continue. It must be swept out, and that means it matters who the next district attorney of this county will be and that there is a process in place to ensure that the people will get to decide that, not political leaders in a back room.”
Bellone acknowledged that Spota once had his full support. That time has passed.
“I believed he was the man that was taking on corruption and would end corruption and political persecution and prosecution in this county,” Bellone said. “And it has now become clear that was simply a reshuffling of the deck chairs and that the culture of corruption that has clearly existed now in this county and in law enforcement for decades has continued unabated and has only worsened.”