Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke Pleads Guilty To Federal Charges

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y (CBSNewYork) —  A dramatic fall from grace for the former Chief of Department for the Suffolk County Police.

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, Suffolk County’s former top cop pleaded guilty to federal charges that he assaulted a suspect and then orchestrated a cover-up.

Ex-Police Chief James Burke appeared in court on Friday. He pleaded guilty to violating civil rights and conspiracy to obstruct justice as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Burke is expected to be sentenced to 51 months in prison.

Prosecutors offered Burke the plea deal earlier this month, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported. If the deal wasn’t accepted, Burke was set to go on trial in March.

“I think it’s a lot of things that changed his mind — he realized what he did here and he wants to own up to it,” Joseph Conway, Burke’s lawyer, told WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs. “And I think in his statement he wants to get the Suffolk County Police Department beyond this.” 

In court, he admitted to violating prisoner Christopher Loeb’s civil rights by beating him and then coercing other Suffolk officers to help him cover up the crime.

He told the judge in part: “I willfully used unreasonable force, slapped and hit the individual causing bodily injury.”

Burke has been held without bail since his arrest in December of last year.

“He acknowledges his lack of judgement and his failure in leadership,” Burke’s attorney Nancy Bartling said.

In December 2012, Loeb was arrested after someone broke into the chief’s SUV and made off with a gun belt, handcuffs, magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, humidor and a canvas bag that Loeb said contained, among other items, sex toys and video pornography, authorities said.

Investigators said Burke himself showed up at Loeb’s home to confront him and while Loeb was later chained in the station house, they said Burke sought revenge, repeatedly beating him.

“The defendant, Burke, entered the interrogation room and is alleged to have repeatedly slapped and punched Loeb about the face,” Robert Capers, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at the time of Burke’s arrest. “Burke repeatedly met with members of the Suffolk County Police Department who had witnessed Burke’s assault of Loeb to agree on ways to get their stories straight.”

Loeb later pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was later released and described the incident last year. 

“Every time I asked for a lawyer, I got hit again, choked, punched, hit, slapped, kicked,” Loeb said.

Bruce Barket, who represents Loeb, said he hopes this plea sends a message, 1010 WINS Juliet Papa reported.

“The days of the corruption, the cover-ups, the abuse of power in Suffolk are over,” he said.

Burke had been on the force for 30 years before he suddenly retired in October amid the federal probe, citing family reasons.

The crashing fall from grace had county-wide implications. Legislator Robert Trotta called fro resignation of the county executive and district attorney.

“They’re responsible for putting him in this position. It was common knowledge this sort of activity was going on and this is going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money in lawsuits,” Trotta (R-Smithtown) said.

But was it a culture of corruption?

“I think it was someone on that particular day, upset his car was broken into, who made a tragic mistake and compounded it by trying to cover it up,” Conway said.

Hinting that another shoe may drop, the U.S. attorney said an investigation is ongoing. Burke’s attorneys said his he is not cooperating in any way with federal officials to bring down anyone else.

The new police commissioner said he has put together a new leadership team committed to crime fighting, integrity, and transparency.

County Executive Steve Bellone said Burke lied to him for three years and called the plea a positive step toward restoring justice in the county.

“Jim Burke, someone I entrusted with great responsibility, lied to my face for nearly three years and orchestrated a cover up to perpetuate that lie. Burke’s guilty plea today is a positice step forward in restoring justice in this county. More work remains to be done and I have every confidence that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York will see this work through to the end,” he said.

Burke will be sentenced at a later date.

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