Testimony: Burke left crime scene with duffel bag

Chief of Suffolk Police James C. Burke seen Chief of Suffolk Police James C. Burke seen in a June 3, 2013 photo. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Suffolk Police Chief of Department James Burke took his stolen duffel bag from the home of the man charged with its theft just hours after police say the bag was reported missing, a retired detective testified in court Thursday.

Thomas Cottingham, who retired July 31 as a detective after 21 years on the force, testified in a pretrial hearing in Riverhead that about 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 14 he and his partner were summoned to Christopher Loeb's Smithtown home armed with a camera after his supervisor called to say a crime section officer needed assistance.

Cottingham, who would then become the lead investigator on the case, described first seeing a member of the Suffolk County Police Criminal Intelligence Section at the scene when he arrived about 11:15 a.m., followed by another three officers.

They apparently had conducted a search after Loeb's probation officer did so.

Earlier in the hearings, probation officer Francine Ruggiero testified she saw police officers taking boxes containing items removed from Loeb's home.

Ruggiero testified that the probation search was finishing up when criminal intelligence officers arrived for a second search.

"They said detectives were coming to the scene," Ruggiero testified before State Supreme Court Judge Martin Efman, adding that nothing had been logged or inventoried at that point.

When Cottingham arrived, he testified, he noticed one of the officers placing a box containing what he would later find out was stolen property from Loeb's home into a vehicle but did not ask why items were being taken. He testified he then told officers his partner was going to take photographs of the scene so the home needed to be cleared.

Sometime before he went into the home, he testified, he saw Burke's GMC Yukon pull up the home's hilly driveway.

Once inside, Cottingham said, he looked around the home, then spoke to Loeb's mother, Jane, in the kitchen, who told him she saw her son inject himself with heroin. Shortly afterward, he said, he went to Loeb's bedroom, and Burke was already in there.

"At that time, he [Burke] picked up his bag [and said:] 'Kenny, did you get a picture of that?' 'Yes boss, I did.' He proceeded to grab the bag and left the room," Cottingham testified. He was referring to Det. Kenneth Regensburg.

Defense attorney Daniel Barker asked Cottingham if Burke ever mentioned the gun belt that was reported to have been stolen hours earlier.

"No, he did not," he testified.

Cottingham said he was at the home with his partner until 1 p.m. that day.

When Barker asked Cottingham if he thought it was out of the ordinary for a victim of a crime to take property from a crime scene, special prosecutor Peter Crusco objected. Efman sustained the objection.

When Barker asked if Cottingham tried to prevent Burke from taking the bag from the scene, another objection was sustained.

Loeb, 27, was indicted Dec. 28 on nearly 30 counts. He was taken into federal custody as a material witness in June.

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