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New York man
could be forced to testify against his partner

New York man
could be forced to testify against his partner

Prosecutors are opposing efforts to apply New York's marital privilege law to same-sex partners, arguing that a man charged in a school embezzlement scandal can testify against his companion. Stephen Signorelli, charged in the theft of $11.2 million from the wealthy Roslyn school district on Long Island, has asked a judge to prevent Frank Tassone, his longtime companion and the district's former superintendent, from testifying against him. Signorelli is among a half-dozen people accused of participating in the theft over several years.

Marital privilege means communications between married people may not be used in a criminal prosecution. The Nassau County district attorney's office argued in a response filed Monday that the request should be denied, since New York State does not recognize same-sex civil unions or marriages. That argument "is not intended as a commentary on what the law ought to be, but rather what it is," the filing said. Prosecutors also contended that marital privilege could not be applied to joint participants in a crime who are trying to hide their activities, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Signorelli, of Manhattan, is fighting charges that he stole at least $219,000 from the public school district as part of a broader series of schemes. Tassone pleaded guilty this year to stealing at least $2 million from the district between 1996 and 2002. As part of his plea bargain, he agreed to testify against other defendants in the case, which meant he might have to take the stand in Signorelli's trial. Tassone will spend four to 12 years in prison and will pay back an estimated $2 million. If convicted at trial, he could have faced up to 25 years.

While Signorelli said in court papers that the two "have been loving partners for 33 years," Tassone's lawyer, Edward Jenks, has described the relationship as a platonic one. Signorelli's lawyer, Kenneth Weinstein, said the two were in a "spousal relationship in every sense of the word." (AP)

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