Christopher Belter Jr. is a 20-year-old New York man from a wealthy family who was sentenced to probation after he was convicted of sexually assaulting four teen girls in Lewiston. Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy III said during sentencing that “It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate,” according to WKBW.
Murphy, while sentencing Belter to eight years of probation, said during court, “I agonized — I’m not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case. Because there was great pain. There was great harm — There were multiple crimes committed in the case,” according to WKBW.
Belter, who now lives in Lockport, New York, was accused of sexually assaulting the four victims in 2017 and 2018 when he was under 18, according to court documents. Belter’s parents are both lawyers. His mother and stepfather are facing charges in connection to parties held at the house where the sexual assaults occurred, according to court records. They, along with a family friend, are accused of supplying alcohol and marijuana to underage teens at parties hosted at the home, according to the New York State Police.
Initially facing first-degree rape charges, Belter pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of felony third-degree rape in 2019, according to court records, along with felony attempted first-degree sexual abuse and two misdemeanor counts of second-degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced under a pre-trial diversion program to two years of probation with the chance to be treated as a youthful offender if he completed the terms of the probation without issues. If he had successfully completed those two years of probation, Belter could have avoided having to register as a sex offender or other further punishment. But Belter was accused of violating that probation, according to WKBW.
Here’s what you need to know about Christopher Belter and the sexual assault case:
1. Judge Matthew Murphy III Said Christopher Belter, Who Was Accused of Violating His Probation in a Diversion Program, Would Have to Register as a Sex Offender & Probation Will Be ‘Like a Sword Hanging Over His Head’
While sentencing Chris Belter to eight years of probation, Judge Matthew Murphy III said in court, “It’s going to be like a sword hanging over your head,” WKBW reported. Belter was also ordered to register as a sex offender, according to WKBW. On December 2, 2021, it will be determined if he has to register as a level one, two or three offender under the New York state Sex Offender Registration Act, the news station reported.
Belter, his family and his attorney could not be reached for comment by Heavy. In court, Belter said, according to WKBW, “Through treatment and reflection, I’ve come to feel deep shame and regret for my actions none of you deserved to be in this situation. I hope each of you could close that wound I gashed. I know though, that a scar will remain that will serve as a reminder of the evil of that night.” Belter’s attorney, Barry Covert, said during sentencing, “He is tremendously remorseful for what he has done.”
Prosecutor Peter Wydysh, who did not making a sentencing recommendation, said during court, according to the news station, “It was not a party house case judge; it was a house of sexual assault — that is what happened there — that is not something we should look past.”
Belter was previously given an interim sentence of two years of probation with several conditions and the opportunity to have his final sentence doled out with youthful offender status. That sentence was issued by now-retired judge Sara Sheldon. According to the Buffalo News, Sheldon said she doubted Belter would succeed at meeting the requirements of the probation, but wanted to give him the chance anyway.
According to court records, the initial probation sentence required Belter to live in Niagara County, be employed or a full-time student, to live with his parents and to have no contact with anyone under 18. He was also ordered to stay away from the victims and not use the internet without permission from his probation officer, was barred from making overnight trips and from visiting locations where minors are present unless given permission by the probation office. Belter was also subject to random polygraph and drug tests.
Belter was accused of violating those terms of probation by viewing internet pornography and installing software on his computer to hide his behavior, according to The New York Times. The newspaper wrote, “Mr. Belter told a probation officer that he had been watching pornography regularly since he was 7 and that it was a ‘coping mechanism,”’ Judge Murphy wrote in an October ruling denying him youthful offender status. He also noted in the ruling that Mr. Belter had ‘recently been treated with medication to lessen his libido.'”
2. Judge Murphy Previously Tried to Order the Media to Not Publish Belter’s Name, Despite a Hearing in the Case Taking Place in Public, Open Court
Murphy could have sentenced Belter to up to eight years in state prison after determining Belter should be sentenced as an adult. But Murphy was also allowed to sentence Belter to up to 10 years of probation along with sex offender registration.
According to court documents, Murphy said about the probation violation, “we now know from his documented failure to to follow the rules imposed by the Court about abstinence from pornography that this defendant does not hesitate to ignore the rules when they compete with his own carnal appetite.” Murphy, in ruling that Belter would be sentenced as an adult, added, “the defendant has made progress and perhaps if the defendant is continued on probation and sex offender counseling for another eight years, the risk to reoffend will be eliminated. But, in the meantime, the Defendant still posts an ‘above average risk’ to reoffend even after two years of counseling.”
During the leadup to Belter’s sentencing, Murphy tried to bar the media from publishing Belter’s name after a hearing, despite it taking place in open court and the fact that Belter’s name had been previously reported, according to The Buffalo News. In an editorial rebuking the judge’s decision, the newspaper wrote, “Murphy had no legal standing to order news outlets, including The Buffalo News, not to publish the name of a 20-year-old rapist whose family lives in a mansion in Lewiston. But he did anyway. The ruling wasn’t merely lawless, it was weird. The man’s name had previously been reported by Western New York news outlets, and repeatedly.”
The editorial continued, “The court hearing in which the judge issued his nonsensical order was open to the public, so anyone there could have spread it on social media. The name is available through online searches. But most of all, the order was an abuse of authority – the kind that gets judges overruled and sometimes disciplined.”
Murphy, 70, is a Democrat who was first elected as a county judge in 2007, according to state records. He was previously a Niagara County district attorney. The former prosecutor will face mandatory retirement at the end of 2021. Murphy has not commented about the outrage sparked by his sentencing decision.
3. Belter Was Accused of Sexually Assaulting Multiple Teen Girls at Parties at His Parents’ House While He Was a Student at Canisius High School in Buffalo
Belter was 16 and 17 at the time of the sexual assaults and was a student and rugby player at Canisius High School, a private, Jesuit Catholic prep school in Buffalo, New York, at the time, according to The New York Times. The incidents occurred at parties at the Lewiston mansion where he lived with his mother and stepfather, according to prosecutors. The victims were three 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old, prosecutors said.
According to The Times, one victim, identified as M.M., was at the house with Belter’s sister in August 2018 when she was raped. The newspaper wrote, “He asked her into his room, and then threw her onto the bed, pulled off her clothes and told her to stop being such a baby, according to court documents. At a hearing this summer, she described focusing her attention on the leaves of a plant in the room as the attack continued.” According to The Buffalo News, M.M. said. incourt, “He told me if I stopped resisting, it wouldn’t hurt as bad.”
4. Belter’s Mother, Tricia Vacanti, Is Accused of ‘Grooming’ One of Her Son’s Victims to ‘Be Prey for Her Predator Son’
Christopher Belter’s mother, Tricia Vacanti, his stepfather, Gary Sullo and a neighbor, Jessica Long, are all facing ongoing state charges in connection to parties held at the home where Belter lived in Lewiston, New York, according to court records. The cases against them are still pending and they have all pleaded not guilty. The trio is accused of supplying alcohol and marijuana to minors during the parties. The 6,378-square-foot, five-bedroom, six-bathroom home, owned by Vacanti and Sullo, is located on Mountain View Drive. It is worth $1.4 million, according to Trulia.
Long, 39, was charged with unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child. Vacanti and Sullo are facing several charges of unlawfully dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child. The couple is facing a combined 30 charges, according to the Niagara Gazette. The cases against the three have been delayed because of COVID, according to the Niagara Gazette.
Vacanti, 47, is an attorney at the Law Offices of Tricia Vacanti, according to her Facebook page. She studied psychology at the University of Buffalo and graduated from SUNY Buffalo Law School. Vacanti was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1999, according to public records. Her 53-year-old husband, Sullo, is the CEO of Tramec Sloan LLC, a manufacturing company, according to the company.
According to the Niagara Gazette, M.M., one of Belter’s victims, said in a civil lawsuit that Vacanti had started a relationship with her to “with the intention of grooming” her “to be prey for her predator son.” According to court documents obtained by the newspaper, “M.M. was made to feel comfortable drinking and partying at the house, made to feel close to and safe with defendants Vacanti and Sullo, and, like other girls lured for the use of Belter, Jr., to feel safe with Belter, Jr. himself.”
Belter’s father, Christopher Belter Sr., is also an attorney. He is not facing any criminal charges or accusations of wrongdoing on connection to his son’s case.
5. The Attorney for One of Belter’s Victims Says She ‘Threw Up in the Ladies Room Following the Sentencing’ & He Said ‘If Chris Belter Was Not a White Defendant From a Rich & Influential Family’ He ‘Would Surely Have Been Sentenced to Prison
Attorney Steve Cohen, who represents one of Belter’s victims, identified as M.M. in court documents, told The New York Times, “My client threw up in the ladies room following the sentencing.” Cohen added, “if Chris Belter was not a white defendant from a rich and influential family,” he, “would surely have been sentenced to prison. The truth of what went on and what he did to his victims is far more egregious than the charges he pleaded to.”
Cohen told WKBW, “I am deeply, deeply disappointed. I expected a different outcome today. Justice was not done today.” He said there were “zero consequences” for Belter violating the previous terms of probation. “He is privileged. He comes from money. He is white. He was sentenced as an adult, appropriately — for an adult to get away with these crimes is unjust.”
During court, the judge read a portion of M.M.’s victim impact statement, according to The New York Times. She compared the damage caused by Belter to wild forest fires she had seen raging when she traveled across the country during the summer, writing, “So I stand before you now asking you to not let this be the end, to not let this rapist walk away from two years’ probation with a clean slate. I am asking you because you have the ability to save future girls. You have the ability to put this fire out or to let it continue burning.”