Judge rejects spousal privilege for partners in school theft case

Posted on 12 Jan 2006 at 10:07pm
By Frank Eltman Associated Press

MINEOLA, N.Y. A former school administrator who has admitted stealing millions from an affluent Long Island school district will be required to testify against his longtime gay partner, who is also charged in the theft, a judge has ruled.

Nassau County Court Judge Alan L. Honorof ruled that Roslyn School Superintendent Frank Tassone’s expected testimony against his partner, Stephen Signorelli, was exempt from a state law protecting spouses from testifying against one another.

“A recognized exception to the long-standing rule of spousal privilege is when spousal communications relate to their joint participation in a criminal venture,” Honorof wrote in his decision dated Jan. 3.

He said that because the couple’s conversations related to a crime in which both were alleged co-conspirators, “it is therefore not necessary for this court to reach the question of whether spousal privilege applies to same sex relationships.”

Tassone, 58, pleaded guilty in September to one count each of first- and second-degree grand larceny in a scandal that state Comptroller Alan Hevesi has called “the largest, most remarkable, most extraordinary theft” from a school system in American history. A state audit found that $11.2 million had been pilfered from the school district between 1996 and 2004, although prosecutors have only been able to link slightly less than $7 million to the current defendants.

The money was allegedly used to pay for flights aboard the Concorde, for vacations in England and mortgage payments for homes in Florida, the Hamptons and Pennsylvania.

Tassone has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and is expected to repay up to $2 million and receive a prison sentence of 4 to 12 years. If convicted at trial, he could have faced up to 25 years.

His sentencing had been scheduled for Wednesday, but was postponed until Feb. 28.

Three others have pleaded guilty in the case. Signorelli and another defendant are fighting the charges.

Signorelli, 60, is charged with helping Tassone steal at least $219,000 by submitting phony and padded invoices for printing school handbooks.

His attorney argued he was entitled to protection under the marital privilege law because he and Tassone are registered domestic partners in New York City and had a commitment ceremony during a Caribbean cruise.

“Regrettably, the judge determined the issue without reaching what we considered to be a groundbreaking legal precedent,” attorney Kenneth Weinstein said.

He said despite the criminal charges against them, both men still share an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

“Their relationship has not changed, it has never changed, it is what it always was,” Weinstein said. “For over 33 years they considered themselves to be a married couple. And they still do today.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2006.

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