Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
The arrest this week of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke reinforces the county’s unsung status as the land of legal and government mysteries.
The federal charges are fairly clear in detailing Burke’s alleged abuse of an admitted thief who had burglarized Burke’s car. So is the charismatic lawman’s denial of guilt.
But it remains to be explained how disciplinary issues raised decades ago, including personal closeness to a known criminal, were overcome to enable Burke, a protégé of District Attorney Thomas Spota, to rise in the ranks.More storiesJames Burke: Complete coverageStorySuffolk police chief resigns amid federal probeEditorialEditorial: Suffolk police chief exit is overdue
Other Suffolk cases have spawned deeper mysteries.
Nearly five years have passed since the sudden announcement that County Executive Steve Levy wouldn’t seek re-election, and would forfeit his $4.1 million campaign fund in a deal with Spota.
Nobody ever revealed exactly what the man did or admitted to doing. Neither has Levy. All the public really has heard to this day is that the probe purportedly had to do with the campaign money. Levy had won a second term unopposed, then switched parties and ran for governor in 2010.
Then, whoosh. He was gone.
Spota said at the time: “While the investigation revealed serious issues with regard to fundraising and the manner in which it was conducted, including the use of public resources, I am confident that Mr. Levy did not personally profit.”
Plea deals ordinarily result in specific admissions to specific charges. Here we have no charges, no court resolution — only shadows.
Then there was Suffolk authorities’ handling of a Nassau cop’s controversial shooting of an unarmed cabdriver in Huntington. Last year, a Suffolk grand jury expired without evident activity even as Nassau officials found the ex-officer committed four felonies during the bizarre episode.
Spota spokesman Robert Clifford said nearly a year ago: “At every turn we were thwarted in our attempt to move forward.” Basic questions linger. Maybe real answers will come from a civil case filed by the shooting victim.
The shooting of prominent Oheka Castle owner and Independence Party figure Gary Melius remains a puzzler nearly two years after the fact. Police said the would-be assassin’s gun jammed as he tried to fire a second round. Melius was shot in the head but survived.
It occurred during daytime in a parking lot outside the catering hall. Despite videotape surveillance, a $100,000 reward offer, and identification of the getaway vehicle as an older-model Jeep Cherokee, the case appears to grow cold.
The biggest and most disturbing local riddle of all involves the grisly discovery, starting five years ago, of the remains of 11 people along Ocean Parkway. Investigators have theorized about a serial killer or killers targeting those associated with the sex trade.
For Suffolk’s various mysteries, one can only wonder how the answers will come and when.