Suffolk County Police Chief of Department James Burke is being investigated by federal officials to see whether he violated the civil rights of a man arrested on charges of breaking into the officer's unmarked vehicle and stealing his gun belt, ammunition and handcuffs, sources said Tuesday.
The FBI served subpoenas Tuesday on nearly a dozen Suffolk police officers, detectives and headquarters personnel to appear before a federal grand jury, the sources said. More subpoenas will be issued soon, one of the sources said.
Christopher Loeb, 26, was arrested Dec. 14, 2012, at his Smithtown home. He told family members that Burke punched him in the Fourth Precinct squad room hours after his arrest, his mother, Jane Loeb, said last week.
A Suffolk County sheriff's spokesman said Loeb was taken out of the Riverhead jail Tuesday, where he had been held, and is now in federal custody. Loeb was taken into custody as a material witness, the sources said.
The investigation into Burke's actions was launched by the civil rights division of the FBI office in Manhattan and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn at the civil rights division of the United States attorney for the Eastern District, the sources said.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District declined to comment on the investigation.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Ed Webber and Burke declined to comment. Last week, Burke denied any wrongdoing.
The department reissued statement from last week that said: "Chief Burke denies any allegation of wrongdoing. Once a subject has been arraigned, the Suffolk County Police Department does not comment on the case. The Christopher Loeb case is an active, ongoing criminal prosecution. It would be inappropriate for Chief Burke to comment on this case. Chief Burke, along with numerous other victims of Christopher Loeb, are not only victims, but potential witnesses in this case."
The police department also reissued another statement on behalf of County Executive Steve Bellone. "James Burke is an outstanding law enforcement official and has helped lead our efforts to make Suffolk County a safer place to live," the statement said.
A spokeswoman for Bellone also said, "Suffolk County will fully cooperate with any investigation."
Law enforcement sources said that Burke went to the Fourth Precinct, where Loeb was being processed, and that he ordered the detectives' squad room cleared of everyone except for Loeb and himself.
Jane Loeb said her son told her that he was punched by Burke in the squad room.
The subpoenas were served to officers who may have been in the precinct during the alleged incident or may have knowledge of the it, the sources said.
From his Suffolk jail cell, Loeb wrote his mother earlier this year that he was "beat up" both in his home and then "even worse at the precinct." Then, during a conversation in the Suffolk County jail, she said Loeb, who was convicted in April 2012 of grand larceny, told her that Burke was the person who punched him.
Loeb told her that Burke punched him in the stomach and said, "That's what you get for taking somebody's property," Jane Loeb said last week.
Law enforcement records also place Burke at Loeb's home hours after his vehicle was broken into and while Loeb was being apprehended. Suffolk County rules and procedures say police supervisors and top brass should not participate in routine matters and should allow subordinates to carry out those functions.
A law enforcement expert and law enforcement sources said a chief who is the victim of a crime should not show up at the crime scene.
Suspect's prior recordBesides the grand larceny conviction, Loeb has several misdemeanor convictions for drug and vehicle traffic law violations and attempted aggravated harassment.
Jane Loeb said last week that her son has struggled with drug addiction for years and that she feared for his life. She said an investigator with the Suffolk County Internal Affairs Bureau called her last week to interview her, but she has not spoken to the bureau nor has it followed up.
"I don't have to worry about being interviewed by the internal affairs now," she said Tuesday.
Her husband, Christopher Loeb, said, "My concern has always been for his safety and who is helping him getting off drugs. I personally feel he should have been mandated into rehab for his addictions."
Police and prosecutors say Loeb and Gabriel Miguelez, 36, of Lindenhurst, took a duffel bag containing Burke's gun belt, ammunition, handcuffs, cigars and other items from the department-issued GMC Yukon on Dec. 14 around 12:30 a.m. A department spokesman said Burke's gun was not in the gun belt when it was taken.
According to court records, Loeb told Fourth Precinct detectives that Burke's Yukon was unlocked when they took the bag. Police spokesman Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon said earlier this year that Burke said his car was locked.
Loeb is scheduled to appear July 9 before Suffolk County Judge Martin Efman on 29 counts related to breaking into more than a dozen cars in St. James.
A Suffolk County grand jury indicted Loeb in December on counts that include fourth-degree grand larceny, fourth- and fifth-degree possession of stolen property, seventh-degree possession of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
He was held at Suffolk County jail on $500,000 bond.
Miguelez, a first-time offender, was released from jail Jan. 30 and has agreed to a plea deal.
Loeb's court-appointed attorney, Toni Marie Angeli, did not return a call requesting comment.
A special prosecutor, Queens Assistant District Attorney Peter Crusco, has been assigned to investigate the alleged theft. Crusco did not return a call seeking comment.
Burke was assigned to the Suffolk district attorney's office before his appointment as chief of department.
With Paul LaRocco and William Murphy
TITLE Chief of Department
EDUCATION Smithtown East High School graduate. Attended Suffolk Community College before entering New York City police academy; 2007 graduate of The Energia Partnership at Molloy College, a regional leadership academy.
CAREER New York City police officer, 1985. Hired as Suffolk police officer in 1986. Promoted to sergeant, 1991; lieutenant, 2000. Assigned in 2002 to lead DA's police detectives squad. Named inspector in 2004. Oversaw police detectives and DA's investigators through December 2011. Appointed in January 2012 as chief of department.