Sources: Chief attorney to lead Tankleff probe



January 17, 2008

A top-tier attorney with experience both as a prosecutor and as a defense lawyer will lead a team of highly experienced attorneys and investigators for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's probe into the Tankleff murders, sources familiar with the investigation said.

Benjamin Rosenberg, chief trial counsel for the attorney general's office, is a former assistant U.S. attorney who handled New York State's high-profile case to try to recover some of former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Dick Grasso's $187.5-million pay package. He has been named to handle the case for Cuomo's office, the sources said.

Rosenberg, on leave as a partner at Dechert Llp, will work with assistant attorneys general Risa Sugarman, former chief of the Bronx district attorney's homicide bureau, and Thomas Schellhammer, a former Manhattan homicide prosecutor, sources said.

The names surface less than a week after Gov. Eliot Spitzer chose Cuomo to take over one of Long Island's most infamous cases - the Sept. 7, 1988, murders in Belle Terre of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, a crime for which the couple's then 17-year-old son, Martin, was convicted in 1990.

A four-judge appellate panel overturned Tankleff's conviction last month, and Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, after agreeing to $1 million bail for Tankleff, said he would move to drop charges against Tankleff at a hearing tomorrow and call on Spitzer to name a special prosecutor.

Tankleff attorney Bruce Barket of Garden City said he hadn't heard officially that Rosenberg had been chosen, so he declined to comment on the appointment. But he said he expected only a slight delay in the dismissal of charges.

"We understand the attorney general's office will need some time to get up to speed and, hopefully, they understand that Marty needs some finality to this," Barket said. "And we look forward to them to move expeditiously toward dismissing the case against him."

Sources said the prosecutors are reviewing their options for tomorrow and that Rosenberg will also have on his team former Manhattan prosecutor Harlan Levy, an expert who wrote a book on the evolution of the use of DNA analysis in court. He is now a partner with Boies, Schiller & Flexner Llp in Manhattan.

Jay Salpeter, the Great Neck-based investigator and former city homicide detective who uncovered the evidence that the Appellate Division reviewed for its decision, said he's happy the case is moving forward.

Staff writer Alfonso A. Castillo contributed to this story.

Ben Rosenberg

Age 49

Born Boston

Job Chief trial counsel for the office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo

Law school Harvard

Background Former assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan; defense attorney