NEW YORK – A gay man charged with helping his lover loot a wealthy school district has asked a judge to rule that state law protecting spouses from having to testify against each other also applies to same-sex partners.
Stephen Signorelli, fighting charges that he stole at least $219,000 from the Roslyn, N.Y., school district, is seeking to bar testimony by his longtime companion, Frank Tassone, the district's former superintendent.
Auditors say that in all, $11.2 million was taken from the Long Island district, and state Comptroller Alan Hevesi has called the case "the largest, most remarkable, most extraordinary theft" from a school system in American history.
Tassone pleaded guilty this year to stealing $1 million 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.
In a motion filed before a judge in Nassau County, Signorelli sought to bar such an appearance, saying he and Tassone deserved the same protection as a heterosexual couple.
"Mr. Tassone and I have been loving partners for 33 years," Signorelli said in an affidavit, adding that the two had participated in "a solemn religious ceremony" conducted while they were on a Caribbean cruise, "to memorialize our relationship and love for one another."
The two also registered as domestic partners in New York City, where they live, in 2002.
"It's our position that the statute should be read gender-neutral," Signorelli's attorney, Kenneth Weinstein, told Newsday. "If a heterosexual couple can assert marital privilege, then a homosexual couple should be able to do the same."
Signorelli is charged with helping in the theft of at least $219,000 by submitting phony and padded invoices for the printing of school handbooks.
Weinstein and an attorney for Tassone did not immediately return phone messages left at their offices Friday.
Prosecutors have yet to respond to the motion and Judge Alan Honorof has not indicated how he might rule.