CENTRAL ISLIP — James Burke, the Suffolk County police chief who stepped down amid a corruption scandal, pleaded guilty Friday morning.
Burke admitted to assaulting a prisoner and obstruction of justice as part of a deal that would send him to prison for a maximum of five years, according to sources. But no deal is final until officially signed and accepted by the defendant.
"I, along with others, willfully used unreasonable force... slapped and hit the individual, causing bodily injury," Burke said. "I was aware there was a grand jury investigating.... I conspired to obstruct... so the grand jury would not find out the true events of what happened."
Federal prosecutors for three years have been building their case against the former chief for many abuse-of-power offenses and, potentially, the "corruption of an entire department."
The deal allows Burke to avoid a criminal trial that has been scheduled for March 21, 2016.
The evidence against Burke alleges the torturing of prisoner Christopher Loeb and then conspiring to cover it up. Prosecutors say Burke 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; and
- Tampering with evidence.
“I find the corruption of an entire department by this defendant is shocking,” Judge Leonard Wexler said last year as he denied Burke bail.
Wexler called Burke "a danger to the community.
"...The evidence is clear he still has the power" to do harm," the judge said.
The case against Burke stemmed from a theft the night of Dec. 14, 2012.
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, the chief's gun belt and other police gear. 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. After taking Loeb to a nearby police precinct, the chief gave Loeb a beat down while the prisoner was chained to the floor, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also allege Burke coordinated with at least 10 other officers to corroborate their stories to indicate that no illegality had occurred.
Burke has been held 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.