LEWISTON — The woman accused of providing booze and pot to at least three teenage girls, who then claimed they were sexually assaulted in her home, which was known among local teens as the “Lewiston Party House,” has died.
But the circumstances surrounding the death of Tricia Vacanti remain murky, at best.
Niagara County prosecutors, who had charged Vacanti, 51, with 41 counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child, have indicated that they will seek details about her demise when the case against her, her husband and a neighbor returns to Lewiston Town Court on Aug. 2.
District Attorney Brian Seaman said he had “heard that she has passed,” but that his office has not been officially notified of Vacanti’s death. Seaman said his office would ask that the circumstances of Vacanti’s death be “explained” during the upcoming proceeding before Town Court Justice Hugh Gee.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Gazette has learned that Lewiston police were called to the home that Vacanti shared with her husband, Gary Sullo, at 620 Mountain View Drive, at 2:36 p.m. July 3. The call was described by Lewiston police as an “assist EMTs” call.
A Lewiston police captain told the Gazette that officers went to the home and saw Vacanti “being loaded into an ambulance. The captain said that Vacanti “was alert and talking to the EMTs” and was then transported to Mount St. Mary’s Hospital.
Lewiston police said “a couple of days later” they were informed that Vacanti “had passed.” What happened after Vacanti was taken by ambulance from her home, for the moment, is a mystery.
The Gazette has been unable to confirm if Vacanti ever arrived at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital or if she was treated there. Reached by the Gazette, Niagara County Coroner Laura Sweney-Goodlander, who reportedly handled the processing of Vacanti’s death, refused to provide any information.
Sweney-Goodlander told a reporter that it was “none of your business” when asked about Vacanti’s cause of death. She said the Gazette could contact Niagara County Attorney Claude A. Joerg to further discuss the Vacanti matter.
At least one local enforcement agency has expressed concern that Sweney-Goodlander did not reportedly require on autopsy for Vacanti. Sweney-Goodlander declined to discuss her autopsy decision with the Gazette.
A search of available obituary databases failed to turn up any record of Vacanti’s death. The Gazette was able to confirm Vacanti’s death by speaking to an individual who attended her funeral.
The individual described the funeral as “very sad” but declined to discuss any other aspects of Vacanti’s passing.
An email exchange with Vacanti’s defense attorney, Brian Melber, also failed to elicit any significant information about his client’s death. In his response to a reporter’s query, asking if Vacanti was deceased and when she died and the circumstances surrounding her passing, Melber said only that he was “still involved” in her pending criminal case.
When asked directly, in a subsequent email, if his client was deceased, Melber did not respond.
A Freedom of Information request for a copy of Vacanti’s death certificate was rejected by the Lewiston Town Clerk with the response that “Death certificates are not public records.” Prior to 1990, death certificates were considered pubic records in New York state.
However an amendment to New York State Public Health Law §4174, in that year, made death certificates confidential documents, disclosable only by a court order or to spouse of a decedent.
Multiple additional sources who may have had knowledge of Vacanti’s death either refused to comment or did not respond to Gazette inquiries.
Vacanti and Sullo, 57, were charged in 2019 with 19 combined counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child in the case in connection with the teen parties at their home. In January 2020, Niagara County prosecutors leveled an additional 22 counts of endangering and unlawful dealing against Vacanti and another eight counts of the same allegations against Sullo.
A friend of the family, Jessica Long, 43, has been charged with single counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child.
The cases against the adults had been companions to a criminal indictment against Vacanti’s son, Christopher Belter. Belter pleaded guilty in June 2019 to felony charges of third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse and two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse for encounters with four teenaged girls that occurred during parties at the family’s home in 2017 and 2018.
in November 2021, now retired Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III sentenced Belter to eight years of probation. Murphy said that he had “agonized” and then prayed for guidance on how to sentence Belter, finally concluding prison time “would be inappropriate.”
A month later, in December 2021, Murphy classified Belter as Level 3 sex offender. Level 3 is the most serious classification and legally indicates a “sexual predator.” Belter was also declared a sexually violent offender.
Vacanti is also a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by the parents of one of her son’s victims that alleges that she “groomed” their daughter before she was raped. The suit contends that before the victim, identified in the court papers as “M.M.,” was attacked on Aug. 2, 2018, Vacanti built a relationship “with the intention of grooming (her)” and other girls “to be prey for her predator son.”