LEWISTON — After raising the stakes on their last trip to court, Niagara County prosecutors told a Lewiston Court judge on Tuesday that they have met their obligations under New York state's new criminal justice reforms and they are ready for a May trial in the Lewiston Party House case.
First Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma told Justice Hugh Gee that she had filed a "certificate of compliance," indicating that she has turned over to defense attorneys in the case all the relevant evidence and witness information required by law. The lawyers will all return to court on March 10 and jury selection in the case is set for May 19.
Sloma recently added a combined 30 new charges against a Lewiston couple accused of providing booze and pot to at least three teenage girls, who then claimed they were sexually assaulted in the couple's Mountainview Drive home in 2017 and 2018.
Tricia Vacanti, 47, and Gary Sullo, 53, were already facing 19 combined counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child in the case. Prosecutors have now leveled an additional 22 counts of endangering and unlawful dealing against Vacanti and another 8 counts of the same allegations against Sullo.
A friend of the family, Jessica Long, 39, continues to face just 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 now 18-year-old son Christopher Belter who pleaded guilty in late June 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.
Belter was placed on two years of interim probation during a sentencing hearing on Aug. 28. Since he was accused of committing the crimes when he was 16 and was first charged in the case when he was 17, Belter remains eligible to be sentenced as a youthful offender.
If Belter is sentenced as a youthful offender, the records of his case will be sealed and he will not have to register as a sex offender.
Belter faces a sentence of either eight years in prison or 10 years probation or a combination of the two depending on his behavior while he is on interim probation.
Lawyers in the case have also confirmed that Gee has completed a private review of the mental health records of two of four sexual assault victims. Defense attorneys for Vacanti, Sullo and Long had asked Gee to review the records because they believed they they contained information beneficial to their clients.
Specifically, the defense team believed that the victim identified as complainant number one, in court papers, may have confided to a counselor or therapist that she regularly drinks even though she is underage. Defense attorney Brian Melber had also disclosed that complainant number one, in a text message with another victim, forensically extracted from their cell phones, claimed that she “used alcohol to the point of being blackout drunk.”
Melber said that could make her an unreliable witness at a trial for the three adult defendants.
Gee concluded that the records contained no information that either defense attorneys or prosecutors would be entitled to.