Recently unsealed federal court documents shed new light on the mysterious 2011 non-prosecution agreement that ended the elected career of former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who was among the many politicians to tap Fire Island’s deep pockets at local campaign fundraisers.
The documents detail allegations that ex-Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, his former top deputy Christopher McPartland, and James Burke – who led Spota’s detective squad – investigated Levy for campaign fundraising violations because Levy refused to appoint Burke as chief of the Suffolk County Police Department. Levy forfeited his more than $4 million campaign war chest in a deal with Spota’s office that resulted in no charges being filed against the ex-county exec. Levy’s successor, current Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, later appointed Burke as police chief, but Burke resigned before admitting in 2016 to beating a handcuffed suspect – a crime Spota and McPartland were convicted in 2019 of covering up.
“Burke proudly bragged about this coup, often introducing defendant McPartland to police officers as ‘the man who killed Steve Levy,’ a designation that McPartland embraced,” federal prosecutors wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack, who presided over the trial of Spota and McPartland. “The purpose of ‘killing’ Levy was to replace him with a friendly county executive who would then allow the group to hand-select a new police commissioner, ensuring that they (Spota, McPartland and Burke) would control the police department.”
Azrack unsealed the letter and hundreds of other pages of files in the case ahead of Spota’s and McPartland’s sentencing, which is scheduled for June 30. The documents show that prosecutors sought to have two former Suffolk police detectives testify at Spota’s trial about the Levy case in an attempt to show the lengths Spota, McPartland and Burke went to exert control.
McPartland’s attorney, Larry Krantz, countered that the request to introduce such evidence shows the “depths to which [prosecutors are] willing to stoop to compensate for the lack of direct proof in this case. We respectfully submit that to allow the Levy testimony in evidence would eviscerate the defendant’s’ right to a fair trial.”
Azrack ultimately ruled against allowing the jury to hear the testimony about Levy. The judge unsealed the files at the request of Newsday, which first reported the revelations, and a reporter with The Washington Post who is writing a book about the Burke case. Newsday also reported that “McPartland’s alleged threat to expose a high-ranking Levy administration official’s gay relationship” was key to turning one of Levy’s aides into a cooperating witness to make the campaign violation case against the former county executive that ultimately forced him out of office.
The revelations intertwine two of the biggest scandals of the past decade in Suffolk: Levy leaving office under a cloud of suspicion, and three of the county’s top law enforcement officials being convicted of federal crimes.
Levy was a former Democrat who changed his party affiliation to Republican in an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2010 a year before the surprise announcement that he would decline to seek a third term.
“Questions have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign,” he said in a statement at the time. “Since this occurred under my watch I accept responsibility. In order to resolve these questions I will be turning over my campaign funds to the Suffolk County District Attorney.”
Once a hard-charging county leader who had clashed with the police unions while trying to reign in spending, Levy is now a government consultant. He reportedly expressed outrage at the court documents’ revelations about his case, but Newsday also reports that an attorney for the former county executive is seeking to block Spota’s successor, current Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini, from releasing a copy of Levy’s non-prosecution agreement, which the newspaper requested under the Freedom of Information Law. Details of the agreement have remained secret since it was made.
Burke’s downfall was even more dramatic. He admitted to beating Christopher Loeb – a Smithtown man and recovering heroin addict who stole from Burke’s parked SUV a duffel bag containing police gear, sex toys and pornographic videos – while Loeb was handcuffed in a police precinct. For pleading guilty to depriving a person of civil rights and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice for the beating and trying to cover it up, Burke served nearly four years in federal prison. He’s since been released and is believed to be living back at his Smithtown home.
As for Spota – a former Republican-turned Democrat – and McPartland, federal prosecutors used the term unprecedented to characterize the nature of the crimes they were convicted of. In rare cases in which district attorneys are convicted of crimes, it usually involves money, not covering up a police chief’s civil rights violations. Most spectacularly, before Spota and McPartland – who led the public corruption unit – were convicted of obstruction of justice, witness tampering and other offenses for their role in covering up the beating, they made headlines for many high-profile cases that resulted in the convictions of local elected officials on the village, town, and county levels over a 15-year span. Prosecutors have asked the judge to sentence the duo to eight years in prison.
Spota, McPartland, and Burke were gunning for Levy since at least 2006 before making their case in 2010, federal authorities said in court documents. When Levy struck the deal, Spota’s office returned the donations to the people who made them – meaning some donors who attended Levy’s Fire Island fundraisers got something few, if any, can say they have ever received from such an event: A refund.
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