Citing a “culture of corruption,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone demanded district attorney Thomas Spota, who he described as the head of a “criminal enterprise,” resign following the latest investigative story published by Newsday today detailing the DA’s office failure to prosecute crimes revealed on a wiretap.
“Tom Spota, you must resign from this office so we can begin the process of reforming this place,” Mr. Bellone said at an afternoon press conference held outside the DA’s office.
Mr. Bellone threatened to request Governor Andrew Cuomo remove Mr. Spota from office if he does not step down in a timely manner. As he spoke, he held a letter in his left hand that he planned to deliver to Mr. Spota requesting his resignation. Mr. Bellone said he believes the governor has the power to remove the DA and he’s consulted the attorney general.
The governor’s office has been in communication with Mr. Bellone, he said.
Mr. Bellone said Mr. Spota refused to cooperate with federal law enforcement officials on the Gilgo Beach murders, unnecessarily prosecuted former Suffolk Det. John Oliva, lied about former police chief James Burke to conceal his past and violated his sacred oath as the top law enforcement official by letting criminals go and leaving some cases unresolved.
“Today’s report gives a real insight into what’s been happening here,” Mr. Bellone said, praising Newsday’s effort to expose the “criminal enterprise.”
Mr. Spota held his own press conference shortly afterward to defend himself and said that during his tenure he has always tried to do what’s right. He said the allegations were “completely baseless” and said they were a “personal vendetta.”
“The county executive made multiple personal pleas to me in the presence of other prosecutors not to investigate or prosecute people he was close to,” Mr. Spota said.
“I believe [Mr. Bellone] has other motives, other reasons he wants me out of office,” he added.
Mr. Spota had not been informed of the request prior to the press conference, Mr. Bellone said, and the two have not spoken “in some time.” He said he would not be calling on anyone else to resign.
“If [Mr. Spota] chooses not to step down, we can make the choice to call on the governor to pull that choice out of his hands,” Mr. Bellone said.
Mr. Spota responded by saying: “If the governor chooses to sit down or send somebody in, I’d be happy to speak with them.”
Mr. Bellone was elected county executive in 2011 and was responsible for promoting Mr. Burke to chief of police in 2012. Mr. Burke left his post in October 2015; Mr. Bellone said he fired him. Mr. Burke was later arrested and pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of a man who allegedly broke into his department vehicle. Mr. Burke had been a former lead investigator in Mr. Spota’s office prior to becoming police chief.
“All of us in this county politically, governmentally, everyone involved bear some responsibility for what has happened here,” Mr. Bellone said.
The county executive did not offer any recommendations as to who should replace Mr. Spota and said now is not the time for that.
“My view is I want anyone who thinks they can do the job to step forward,” he said.
Earlier this week Sheriff Vincent DeMarco wrote an opinion story in Newsday calling for Mr. Spota to resign as well.
“We need new, bold and untainted leadership in the district attorney’s office,” Mr. DeMarco wrote.
Mr. Spota responded with a statement to Newsday saying Mr. DeMarco’s “attempt to force the highest elected law enforcement official from office with neither fact nor proof is nothing short of frightening.”
Suffolk GOP leaders have also called on Mr. Spota, a Democrat, to resign this week, Newsday reported. They renewed that call in a press release issued Thursday.
“At a time when we are experiencing an unprecedented addiction crisis, and given the reality that Suffolk County leads the State of New York in heroin overdoses, the thought that the District Attorney may have spared drug dealers in order to protect corrupt politicians is beyond horrifying,” said Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Islip). “If true, to say this is disgraceful, disgusting, nauseating, would be far too generous.”
Photo Caption: Mr. Bellone pictured in 2014. (file photo)