Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo Goes To Jail

Former State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Spargo enters the federal courthouse in Albany for his sentencing Monday. (Photo by Tom Killips/The Record)

Former New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo Sentenced for Attempted Extortion and Bribery

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe (pictured at right) in Albany, N.Y., to 27 months in prison followed by two years of

supervised release for attempted extortion and bribery, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge John F. Pikus of the FBI's Albany office announced.

A federal jury convicted Spargo, 66, on Aug. 27, 2009. Evidence introduced at trial showed that on Nov. 13, 2003, Spargo solicited a $10,000 payment from an attorney with cases pending before him in Ulster County, N.Y., while Spargo was serving as a state supreme court justice. The trial evidence showed that when the attorney declined to pay the money, Spargo increased the pressure to pay by a second solicitation communicated through an associate. Finally, according to evidence presented at trial, on Dec. 19, 2003, Spargo directly told the attorney in a telephone conversation that he and another judge close to him had been assigned to handle cases in Ulster County, including the attorney's personal divorce case. According to the evidence at trial, the attorney felt that if he did not pay the money, both the cases handled by his law firm and his interests in his personal divorce proceeding would be in jeopardy.

"Fair and impartial judgment by those entrusted to carry out the laws is the bedrock of our legal system. When those sworn to uphold the law violate it, they will be held accountable," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. "We cannot and will not allow the public's faith in our legal system to be shaken by judicial corruption."

"The FBI wants to assure those who have been extorted by public officials that investigating such crimes is the highest priority of our agency. As our recent public corruption convictions illustrate, the FBI will continue to focus on corruption occurring in all branches of New York State government," said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Pikus.

State authorities separately removed Spargo from the bench before his trial and disbarred him after his conviction.

This case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Richard C. Pilger and Trial Attorney M. Kendall Day of the Public Integrity Section. The case was investigated by the FBI's Albany Division.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

Ex judge sentenced to prison
By Dave Canfield, Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The Record

ALBANY — Former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison Monday for trying to extort money from attorneys with cases before him.

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe handed down a 27-month sentence to Spargo, a 66-year-old former part-time Troy corporation counsel convicted in August of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe, both felonies. He used the leverage of his job to try to obtain $10,000 from an attorney in 2003 to offset legal fees he was incurring during a battle with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which eventually recommended his removed from the bench.

“As a judge, there is nothing that is more reprehensible,” Sharpe said of Spargo’s crimes.

Spargo, a seasoned Republican election lawyer from East Berne, left the James T. Foley Courthouse on his own accord and must report to the custody of U.S. Marshals on Feb. 9. He arrived and left with attorney E. Stewart Jones, who gave Sharpe an impassioned address, requesting no jail time while acknowledging that such a sentence would be a radical departure from sentencing guidelines.

The sentence falls at the minimum of those guidelines, which Sharpe amended after taking issue with a finding in the pre-sentencing report. Federal prosecutors had requested the maximum jail time of 41 months and a fine of $75,000.

Sharpe, however, declined to require Spargo pay any fine beyond the mandatory $200 surcharge, saying its punitive value would be outweighed by the financial hardship it would cause his family.

There will be no appeal, Jones said.

Outside the courthouse, Spargo said he thought Sharpe was fair in his decision, but Jones interrupted him to protest the jail sentence for a man he said did much good in his time as an attorney.

“The justice system convicted him on the evidence … that was sufficient punishment for Tom,” he said.

Spargo was disbarred following his conviction, and Jones told Sharpe that sending him to jail would be a “barbaric” sentence.

“To what end, for what purpose?” Jones said in a raised voice in court. “Tom Spargo has lost his judgeship, his right to practice law. He’s never going to regain that privilege. He’s lost everything. He’s financially destitute.”

Jones called the crimes “a very small slice of an otherwise highly admirable life” and noted Spargo’s work representing the indigent.

Prosecutor Richard C. Pilger, however, told Sharpe that a message needs to be sent that corruption in a judge’s seat does not go unpunished, saying that without a legal system free of impropriety “nothing works.”

“As the judge I clerked for told me, a judge can influence things just by the tone of his voice,” he said in asking for a sentence that takes Spargo’s crimes “as seriously as it is possible for a court to take it.”

While Spargo reportedly solicited money from three Ulster County attorneys, it was Bruce Blatchy who contacted the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which was already investigating Spargo on an unrelated ethics matter. Blatchy testified that he felt things in Spargo’s courtroom would not go his way if he did not offer up the money.

Those circumstances, Sharpe said, outweighed other factors that might lean in Spargo’s favor.

“While the other factors are important, that one exceeds them all,” he said.

John Pikus, the FBI’s special agent-in-charge in Albany, said in a statement that such cases are a priority for the bureau, evidently referencing the recent conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno — who will also be sentenced by Sharpe, in March.

“As our recent public corruption convictions illustrate, the FBI will continue to focus on corruption occurring in all branches of New York state government,” Pikus said.

Spargo sought the funds to offset more than $100,000 in legal fees he had incurred in battling the commission’s inquiry into his politicking during his election to Byrne town judge and whether or not it was proper for him, as a judge, to testify on behalf of President George Bush during the infamous Florida recount. It was a lengthy, expensive fight Jones said was indicative of Spargo’s nature but was ultimately unwise.

Spargo admitted as much outside the courthouse, saying he recognizes he took that battle too far.

“The result is where we are,” he said.

Dave Canfield can be reached at 270-1290 or by e-mail at dcanfield@troyrecord.com.

Ex-judge gets 27 months in prison
Posted at: 12/21/2009 11:30 AM
Updated at: 12/21/2009 4:42 PM
By: WNYT Staff

ALBANY - A former state Supreme Court justice was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison Monday afternoon.

Thomas Spargo was convicted last summer on attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe.

Spargo received the minimum sentence -- 27 months and two years supervised release. He could have face up to 20 years in prison.

The jury found that Spargo took a $10,000 payment from an attorney in Ulster County who had cases pending before him. According to evidence presented during the trial, the attorney felt that if he did not pay Spargo those cases would be in jeopardy.

The federal jury in Albany deliberated for two days in August before reaching a verdict.

Spargo has been free on bail since his conviction. He remains free now. He'll have to report to prison on Feb. 10.

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