Jun. 16—LEWISTON — Niagara County prosecutors have confirmed that the long-awaited trial in what has become known as the Lewiston Party House case will begin on Aug. 31.
District Attorney Brian Seaman said Wednesday that jury selection for the trial is slated to begin on Aug. 31. Lewiston Town Court Justice Hugh Gee has set a final pre-trial hearing for July 25.
The scheduling of the trial comes more than four years after the first charges were filed against three adults, accused of providing booze and pot to teens who would gather at a Mountain View Drive home to party. The trial is expected to take two weeks.
The proceedings have often been delayed since the charges were first made public in December 2018. Legal maneuvers by defense lawyers, the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of the principal target of prosecutors in the case have all contributed to the lengthy proceedings.
The case has even seen the retirement of one defense attorney and the departure of the lead prosecutor.
In October, Gee told prosecutors and defense attorneys that he had finally received permission from the state’s Office of Court Administration to conduct the trial with a jury. Pandemic-related restrictions shuttered town and village courts in New York for close to two years and state court officials have barred jury trials in the justice courts without permission from the chief administrative judge for the appropriate district.
Prosecutors and attorneys for the remaining defendants in the case, Gary Sullo and Jessica Long, have indicated to Gee that they are ready for trial.
Sullo and Long are accused of allowing and enabling booze- and pot-fueled teenage parties in the Mountain View Drive home that was shared by Sullo and his late wife, Tricia Vacanti. The parties earned the residence the moniker of the “Lewiston Party House.”
Vacanti had faced 41 counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the house parties. But the charges against her were “abated” after her death on July 3.
The circumstances surrounding Vacanti’s death, at 51, have remained murky. However, at a hearing on Aug. 30, Assistant Niagara County District Attorney Christine Sovoia told Gee that she had “carefully reviewed the death certificate” for Vacanti and was “satisfied with it.”
Savioa did not, in open court, reveal the cause of death that was indicated on the certificate for Vacanti. The assistant DA also did not say who had provided the death certificate to prosecutors.
Defense attorney Brian Melber, who has appeared in the case on behalf of both Vacanti and Sullo, has not commented on his client’s death.
Vacanti had been accused of providing alcohol and marijuana to at least three teenage girls, who later claimed they were sexually assaulted in her home by her then-teenage son, Christopher Belter.
Sullo, 57, and Vacanti, were charged in 2019 with 19 combined counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child 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.
Long, 43, has been charged with single counts of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child.
The criminal cases against the three adults are companion proceedings to a criminal indictment that was filed against 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, the late Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III sentenced Belter to eight years of sex offender probation. Murphy said that he had “agonized” and then prayed for guidance on how to sentence Belter, finally concluding that 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.