Former judge begins serving 27-month term

Section: Main,  Page: A3

Date: Thursday, February 11, 2010

ALBANY -- Former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo has begun serving his 27-month prison sentence for attempted bribery and attempted extortion at a minimum security federal prison camp in Kentucky.

Spargo, 66, reported to the facility in eastern Kentucky by 2 p.m. Tuesday as required, said his attorney, E. Stewart Jones.

The camp is adjacent to Big Sandy U.S. Penitentiary, a high security facility in the city of Inez.

A jury convicted Spargo in August of trying to shake down attorneys and solicit $10,000 to pay his mounting legal bills. He was sentenced on Dec. 21 by Judge Gary Sharpe in U.S. District Court.

Spargo, of East Berne, had been free on bail since being charged -- and remained so until Tuesday when he reported to the prison camp, Jones said.

"I think he is prepared," Jones said Wednesday, saying his client was "remarkably resilient" and had the capacity to stay positive.

The Bureau of Prisons' Web site described its minimum security camps as follows: "Dormitory housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing. These institutions are work- and program-oriented; and many are located adjacent to larger institutions or on military bases, where inmates help serve the labor needs of the larger institution or base."

Specifics on Spargo's facility and situation were not available.

Spargo, a pre-eminent Republican election law attorney who went to bat for George W. Bush during the disputed 2000 presidential election, was elected to a 14-year term to state Supreme Court in 2001. He had been cross-endorsed.

Once on the bench. Spargo's chambers were in Albany, though he handled cases in Ulster County, also within the judicial district.

By 2002, Spargo was facing ethical violations from the state Commission on Judicial Conduct that were unrelated to his future removal from the bench and federal case. He was indicted in 2008.

Court papers showed by 2003, Spargo's legal bills -- which exceeded $140,000 -- had "outstripped his ability to pay them."

At the trial in August, the government proved Spargo tried to extort attorneys to offset his legal costs. He has since been disbarred.

The case, which involved the Albany division of the FBI, was prosecuted by a U.S. Justice Department prosecutor out of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Integrity Section.

Reach Robert Gavin at 434-2403 or