CENTRAL ISLIP — James Burke, the police chief who stepped down amid scandal from one of the country's largest police departments, has been accused of a long list of crimes and misdeeds that PIX11 News has reported exclusively for years.
On Friday, federal prosecutors confirmed that they were investigating the former chief for many abuse-of-power offenses of which he'd been accused of, which PIX11 News reported. A judge determined that those offenses were so high in number and great in severity that he denied bail to Burke, saying that the man who, until this fall, had commanded multiple squads of officers, was potentially responsible for the "corruption of an entire department."
Outside federal court in Yaphank after the bail hearing that left Burke behind bars, the ex-chief's siblings walked out to their cars, stone-faced and silent, knowing that their brother would spend the holidays in federal lockup. Some of them were crying in the courtroom when they heard the news.
They also heard some evidence that prosecutors presented in the courtroom that was severely damning.
Two assistant U.S. attorneys presented texts, transcripts and photos gathered over the course of their three-year investigation. The evidence showed the man accused of torturing prisoner Chris Loeb three years ago and then conspiring to cover it up, had also carried out the following crimes or offenses:
- Obtaining FBI files to see who had cooperated against him in the federal probe.
- Keeping an ongoing retaliation list of officers he felt were disloyal to him.
- Having officers install a GPS device on a civilian police employee's car, without a warrant, with the intention of blackmailing her.
- Getting his officers to cover up a DWI after Burke had crashed his car into the vehicle of an official he didn't like.
- Tampering with evidence.
The judge, Leonard Wexler, is a former lawyer for the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, and as a judge, he'd made a reputation for favoring cops. In his courtroom on Friday, however, the judge did not favor Chief Burke.
“I find the corruption of an entire department by this defendant is shocking,” Judge Wexler said as he denied Burke any bail.
Wexler added about Burke, "He's a danger to the community, and the evidence is clear he still has the power" to do harm.
Amy Marion, the attorney for Chris Loeb, Burke's alleged torture victim, further explained why she felt Burke had to remain remanded.
"Even if you put an ankle bracelet on this person, even if you put this person under home arrest," Marion said, "they still have access to a phone, and it was really clear that the phone was being used to broadcast.... that everybody had to get on board and change their story."
The story that prosecutors said that Burke had strong armed his subordinates into corroborating involved the night of Dec. 14, 2012.
After police investigators concluded that night that Loeb, 28, had stolen a duffel bag from the chief's unmarked SUV that had contained sex toys, porn, and the chief's gun belt and other police gear, Chief Burke showed up at Loeb's home, a severe violation of police policy.
Burke allegedly beat Loeb in his home, and removed the key evidence — the duffel bag. Chief Burke then took Loeb to a nearby police precinct, where the chief gave Loeb a beatdown while the prisoner was chained to the floor, according to prosecutors.
In court on Friday, those prosecutors also showed evidence that Burke had coordinated with at least 10 other officers to corroborate their stories to indicate that no illegality had occurred. Prosecutors also presented evidence that suggested that the county PBA had itself contacted a variety of officers to ensure that they'd corroborated Burke's whitewashed account.
"Intimidating the police force that they have to cover up the story for the chief is an incredible, despicable abuse," Marion, Loeb's attorney, said.
However, the lawyer for Chief Burke said after Thursday's bail hearing that just because the scathing allegations were presented on the record in court, and that a sometimes sympathetic judge chose to keep Burke in lockup for months, doesn't mean the ex-chief is guilty.
"At a later date," Burke's lawyer, Joseph Connolly said, "it's our hope that we'll be able to cross-examine these witnesses and bring forth the facts that are in our favor."
In the meantime, Chief Burke sits in the Eastern District Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal holding facility on the Brooklyn waterfront. It's the same facility in which his alleged victim, Loeb, was held while federal officials investigated his case, for which he ended up serving 2 1/2 years for theft.
Ironically, on Monday, Chief Burke will spend the third anniversary of him putting Loeb under arrest by being under arrest and behind bars himself.