Schenectady County

Feds say former state justice tried to extort bribe

A former state Supreme Court judge was indicted on Wednesday by a federal grand jury on allegations
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A former state Supreme Court judge was indicted on Wednesday by a federal grand jury on allegations he solicited money from attorneys arguing cases before him.

Thomas J. Spargo, 65, who was removed from the bench in 2006 amid allegations he was soliciting payments from attorneys, was charged with attempted extortion and bribery, said acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Spargo’s attorney, E. Stewart Jones, could not be reached on Wednesday to comment.

According to the indictment, Spargo solicited $10,000 from an Ulster County attorney who had cases pending before the judge. The indictment alleges that Spargo threatened to “harm” the attorney if he was not paid and to help the attorney if he was paid.

The case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

Spargo served as a judge in the 3rd Judicial District from January 2002 until being removed in March 2006.

In April 2006, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended his removal from the bench for raising money for his personal benefit from attorneys who had cases pending before him. Spargo did not appeal the decision.

The commission said that Spargo solicited money from lawyers for his legal expense fund because he was facing rising legal expenses incurred in litigation challenging several disciplinary proceedings against him.

It found he “conveyed an appearance of exploiting his judicial office for personal benefit” and acted inappropriately as a judicial candidate, part-time justice and full-time judge.

It cited activities that included handing out $5 drink coupons for free drinks while he campaigned for town justice.

The main reason for his removal was that Spargo was found to be accepting money from attorneys who had cases pending before him, according to the commission.

It found he asked one local attorney in a private meeting in chamber to donate $10,000 to his defense fund, then continued to pressure the attorney for the next few weeks to make the contribution.

The commission said a legal expense fund for a judge, in which attorneys are asked to help pay a judge’s legal expenses in connection with a disciplinary process, raises serious ethical issues.

Following this recommendation, the Court of Appeals ordered he be removed from the bench and said he could no longer hold judicial office in New York.

Before he was elected a state Supreme Court justice, Spargo served as town justice in Berne from January 2000 to December 2001.

He also is well known as an election law expert and had recently worked as deputy corporation counsel for the city of Troy. He went to Florida in late 2000 to help George W. Bush during the Bush/Gore presidential recount.

Categories: Schenectady County

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