Federal prosecutors have offered ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke a plea deal that, sources said Tuesday, calls for a prison sentence of around 5 years.
Burke, the former top uniformed cop in the county, faces charges that he masterminded a cover-up after beating a handcuffed prisoner who had stolen a duffel bag from his department SUV. He has pleaded not guilty and remains held without bail.
His attorney, Joseph Conway of Mineola, said the government offered a plea agreement Monday night.EditorialEditorial: Bring on the feds in SuffolkEditorialEditorial: Burke indictment tars Bellone’s leadership
“We are examining it, but as of now we are anticipating” going to trial, Conway said Tuesday. He declined to provide details of the offer.
In anticipation of possibly resolving the case before the start of trial, Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz revealed in federal court in Central Islip that a plea offer had been made.
Treinis Gatz, who is trying the case with fellow prosecutor John Durham, declined to comment on the details of the offer after Tuesday’s status conference.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler set Feb. 26 as the date for a new status conference to see if a plea deal had been worked out by then. Otherwise, Wexler said, jury selection in the trial would begin March 21.
Burke, wearing a jail-issued navy shirt and tan pants, appeared upbeat throughout the brief proceedings. He laughed as he chatted with Conway before the start of the hearing. His signature mustache, which he apparently shaved off after being jailed, was still missing.
Burke faces charges — depriving a person of civil rights and a conspiracy to obstruct justice — that usually call for a sentence of 5 to 5 1⁄2 years under federal sentencing guidelines. But, if Burke is convicted, and depending on the individual circumstances of the case, a judge could sentence Burke to up to 20 years.
One of those charges would be dropped as part of the plea deal, sources said.
An indictment unsealed Dec. 9, the day federal agents arrested Burke in the driveway of his St. James home, accuses him of beating a handcuffed prisoner, Christopher Loeb, and enlisting unnamed officers and others in a massive cover-up of the alleged assault.
Suffolk officers had arrested Loeb earlier in the day on Dec. 14, 2012, after, they said, he stole a duffel bag from Burke’s unlocked SUV parked in front of the 29-year department veteran’s home.
In December 2015, Burke was first ordered held without bail as a danger to the community, after federal prosecutors said he still maintained considerable influence over the department.
They had argued that several police union officials and others in the department, though never charged, were engaged in the alleged cover-up and continued to support Burke even while he was under investigation. No co-conspirators were named in court papers.
Further, the prosecutors argued that fear of Burke still pervaded parts of the department.