Tankleff lawyers target Spota

Lawyers allege that investigator for Suffolk DA offered witness a shortened sentence if he lied about testimony


January 27, 2006, 10:00 PM EST

Attorneys for Martin Tankleff have submitted court papers charging that an investigator for Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota offered to help a key Tankleff witness get less prison time on an unrelated case if he would say he was bribed for his testimony.

The papers allege that one of Spota's investigators, Walter Warkenthien, tried to coax witness William Ram into saying that Tankleff's attorneys bribed him to provide testimony supporting Tankleff's drive to overturn his 1990 conviction for killing his parents.

Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato called the claim "meritless." He acknowledged that Warkenthien had called Ram just days before Ram pleaded guilty in Florida.

Ram, a former cocaine dealer, was sentenced Jan. 20 in Tampa to 15 years in prison for a string of robberies and other crimes. He testified before Suffolk County Judge Stephen L. Braslow in October 2004 that Peter Kent, Joseph Creedon and Glenn Harris of Selden were partying with drugs at Ram's home before they set out for Arlene and Seymour Tankleff's Belle Terre home. He also testified Creedon invited him for the ride.

The couple was stabbed and beaten to death on Sept. 7, 1988. But Tankleff's attorneys, Bruce Barket of Garden City and Barry Pollack of Washington, D.C., say Kent and Creedon killed the two on behalf of Jerry Steuerman, Seymour Tankleff's business partner.

Steuerman, Kent and Creedon have denied any involvement.

Martin Tankleff is serving a 50-years-to-life sentence, but petitioned the court in 2003 to hold a hearing to offer new evidence that could get him a new trial.

"In two conversations within the last three weeks, implied that he would help Mr. Ram obtain a reduced sentence if Mr. Ram would testify that he was bribed by members of the Tankleff defense team," Barket said, but Ram "flatly refused."

Barket said the fact that Ram declined to cooperate with Suffolk authorities by saying he had been bribed in exchange for a reduced sentence demonstrates he was telling the truth about Tankleff's innocence.

am's attorney, Hubbell Losson, declined to comment.

Lato said Warkenthien called Florida police inquiring about Ram and was referred to Losson by a Florida state attorney, the equivalent of a New York district attorney. The prosecutor told Warkenthien he "might want to talk" to Ram's lawyer, Lato said.

"In order for it to be effective witness tampering, it has to be done before the witness testifies, not 15 months after he does," Lato said.

The last witness in the hearing, Joseph Guarascio, Creedon's son, testified last month that his father told him he and Kent had killed the couple. Tankleff's attorneys accused Warkenthien of intimidating Guarascio after the teen submitted an affidavit of his testimony last August. Lato has denied that charge.