The Smithtown heroin addict who testified that James Burke, the Suffolk police department's highest-ranking uniformed officer, beat him while in custody pleaded guilty Friday with obvious reluctance to stealing Burke's gun belt and ammunition from his police-issued vehicle.
While pleading guilty to third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, Christopher Loeb, 27, hesitated when special prosecutor Peter Crusco asked him whether on Dec. 14, 2012, he had possession of Burke's gun belt and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
"No, I didn't," Loeb said.
He denied it again when State Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman asked him whether he recalled saying that he took those items while testifying during his pretrial hearing, prompting Efman to temporarily abandon the plea process and order a trial.
"I'm sorry," Loeb said. "I have to cop to it." He then finally admitted taking Burke's duffel bag, which contained the gun belt and ammunition.
In return for the plea, Efman promised to sentence Loeb on Feb. 26 to 3 years in prison and order that he take part in drug treatment.
"It's clear to me that the defendant has a serious drug problem and he should be treated for that while he's in custody," Efman said.
During the hearing, Loeb testified that he had a $100-a-day heroin habit.
The plea eliminates the possibility of a trial at which Burke might have been questioned about whether he beat Loeb and whether he went to Loeb's house while it was still being searched to recover his stolen duffel bag. Loeb testified at a pretrial hearing that in addition to the gun belt, the bag contained "nasty pornography."
Afterward, defense attorney Daniel Barker of Riverhead said his client balked at entering the plea because he was nervous and "a little uncomfortable about the proceedings."
Barker said Loeb is disappointed that Burke won't have to testify, but Loeb had to do what was in his best interest. If he'd contested the weapons, grand larceny and probation violation charges and been convicted, Loeb could have faced 9 1/3 to 14 years in prison.
Loeb remains in federal custody, although Crusco said in a motion earlier this month that a federal investigation of Burke had been closed. Crusco, a Queens assistant district attorney, was appointed because of Burke's close ties to Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota. Federal officials have declined to say if the investigation is closed.
After the plea was entered, court officers initially were going to send Loeb to the Suffolk County jail for the first time in months, but Efman, Barker and Crusco said federal authorities would continue to hold him.