Adults in Party House case plead guilty, will likely be sentenced to probation | Crime | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

LEWISTON — Five days after jury selection for the trial of the two remaining adult defendants in the Lewiston Party House case was stopped cold, co-defendents Gary Sullo and Jessica Long pleaded guilty to a trio of misdemeanor charges for providing booze and pot to teenagers in the Mountain View Drive home that Sullo shared with his late wife, Tricia Vacanti.

Sullo, Long, their defense attorneys, and Assistant Niagara County District Attorney Christine Savoia, after a roughly 40-minute chambers conference with Lewiston Town Justice Hugh Gee, crowded in front of the judge Tuesday afternoon, speaking in low voices that made it difficult for spectators, and at least one victim, to hear the proceedings. Savoia told Gee that Sullo had agreed to plead guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and that Long would plead guilty to one count of first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child.

Those pleas would mean that Sullo could face a possible two-year jail sentence and Long a one-year term in the Niagara County jail. Savioa told Gee that prosecutors would ask for a sentence of incarceration.

However, the veteran town justice said he would agree to a probation sentence for both Sullo and Long, pending the results of a pre-sentence investigation by the Niagara County Probation Department. Gee said if the pre-sentence report led him to change his mind on sentencing the pair to probation, he would allow Sullo and Long to withdraw their guilty pleas and go to trial on their charges.

The deal enraged attorney Steven Cohen, who represents a sexual assault victim tied to the Party House case.

“I am disturbed at how these wealthy defendants have manipulated the judicial system,” Cohen said outside the courthouse. “They have manipulated justice in this case, such that it has taken five years for them to be declared guilty.”

Cohen also fumed over a revelation during the proceedings that Sullo has moved out of state, which may raise issues if Gee sentences him to a term of probation.

“We were told, (by then-Niagara County district attorney and now Niagara County Court Judge) Caroline Wojtaszek promised all of us, these people would not be allowed to leave Western New York without permission from the court,” Cohen said.

Current District Attorney Brian Seaman said that Sullo, who was originally released from custody on his own recognizance, may not have been placed under supervision that would have barred him from leaving the state.

“When I see rules not applied to the wealthy class, it makes my blood boil,” Cohen said.

Sullo and Long were the remaining adult defendants accused of providing booze and pot to groups of teens who would gather at Sullo and Vacanti’s Mountain View Drive home to party. The parties earned the residence the moniker of the “Lewiston Party House.”

Their trial had been expected to last two weeks. Lawyers in the case had debated how to address, to a jury, Vacanti’s role in this case.”

Vacanti was the third adult to be charged with providing marijuana and liquor at the teen parties in the home. She had faced 41 counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the house parties.

But she died, suddenly, on July 3, 2022, and the charges against her were set aside. No one, except Cohen mentioned her name on Tuesday.

Vacanti had been accused of providing booze and pot to at least three teenage girls, who later claimed they were sexually assaulted in her home by her then-teenage son, Christopher Belter.

Belter was indicted, and 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 the parties at the family’s home in 2017 and 2018.

In November 2021, Belter was sentenced to eight years of sex offender probation. A month later, he was classified as a 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.

One of his victim’s, whose identity is being withheld by the Gazette, said Tuesday she’s unsure that Belter is abiding by the terms of his probation.

“His probation officer says he’s following the rules she’s given him, but it doesn’t look like that to me,” the victim said.

The victim also said she was troubled by the possibility that Sullo and Long will be sentenced to probation rather than jail time.

“The more I’ve learned, the more distressing it is,” she said. “Even now, Jessica rolled her eyes as she took the plea and she doesn’t take it seriously. They both are extremely guilty and need to own up to it for what they’ve done.”

Sullo, 57, and Vacanti, were originally charged with 19 combined counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the parties at their home from 2016 to 2018. 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.

Long, 43, was charged with single counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child.

While Cohen and the victim questioned the outcome of the plea hearing, Seaman said the pleas created the same result as a trial.

“By pleading guilty to two class A misdemeanors, the highest charges against him, Sullo is subject to the same punishment that he would have if he had been found guilty of all counts after trial,”Seman said. “My office has been clear throughout these proceedings that we would not offer the defendant any reduction. We have also been clear that we believe that jail time is appropriate in this case given the ultimate outcome of the actions of Sullo and his codefendants. Ms. Long was only charged in a single incident and also plead guilty to the top charge against her. She too is subject to the same punishment as if she had been found guilty of all charges after trial.”

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