NEW YORK (PIX11) – A story first broadcast on PIX11 News about corruption charges against the chief of one the country’s largest departments has taken a remarkable new turn. It shows a history of serious wrongdoing by Chief James Burke that could indicate further infractions by Suffolk County’s top cop, and those, in turn, could lead to federal charges against him.
Specifically, an internal affairs report from 18 years ago shows that then-Sergeant Burke was attached romantically to a convicted prostitute and drug dealer named Lowrita Rickenbacker. All of her multiple arrests had happened in the precinct in which Burke was a supervisor, but he still claimed to internal affairs investigators that he’d had no knowledge of her criminal history.
“I was speechless!” former NYPD Internal Affairs investigator and PIX11 consultant Wally Zeins said regarding the 1995 Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs report on Burke. “That [it was], in print, substantiated.” Zeins exclaimed.
Suffolk police investigators concluded that, in 1993, then-Sergeant Burke had a months-long relationship with the prostitution and drug dealing convict, and had on one occasion even left her alone in his car with his gun belt and service weapon in the back seat. The internal affairs report, obtained by Newsday, also substantiated that Burke had, at least once, engaged in a sexual act with Rickenbacker in his patrol car.
“How could he become chief of department without being vetted?” Zeins asked in an interview. “It would have been in black and white and high definition color that he had some serious allegations and a crime against him.” The chief of department position is determined through appointment by the Suffolk County executive, and, in Burke’s case, his former superior, District Attorney Thomas Spota, also played a role in Burke’s appointment as chief.
After internal affairs probed Burke’s relationship with Lowrita Rickenbacker and substantiated it through testimony and lie detector tests of her and then-Sergeant Burke, it is not at all clear that Burke was disciplined.
Instead, in 2000, five years after the probe was completed, Burke was promoted to lieutenant. Then, in 2002, he was named chief of detectives by District Attorney Spota. In 2012, Burke was named Suffolk County police chief.
“It just doesn’t add up,” Zeins said. “Especially with the position he’s in. …There’s something a lot bigger that we don’t see yet.”
Chief Burke is accused of having abused that position late last year. Federal investigators are now looking into accusations from theft suspect Christopher Loeb that Burke beat up Loeb after the Smithtown resident was under arrest for having stolen a duffel bag from the chief’s unmarked vehicle.
In the duffel bag were the chief’s gun belt, similar to the one he’d left behind years earlier with the convicted prostitute, as well as other items. The alleged beating is now the subject of an FBI probe and, according to law enforcement sources on Long Island, the situation is greatly affecting Burke’s entire department.
“Everybody knew [Burke]’s a bad guy,” said former NYPD detective and Suffolk County resident Pete Fiorillo. He leads and contributes to a variety of Long Island law enforcement message boards and online discussion groups. “They wanted to do something [about his abuses of power] and it never worked, because he’s too connected.”
Burke and the Suffolk County Police Department have not commented about his past actions or about the current accusations against him. District Attorney Tom Spota also declined comment.