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James Burke pleaded guilty, but SCPD probe continues

Fomer Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke

Fomer Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke is arrested outside his Smithtown home by FBI agents on Wednesday morning, Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

One down.

More to go?

That’s what an attorney for former Suffolk police chief of department James Burke suggested Friday after Burke pleaded guilty to two corruption-related charges in a standing-room-only federal courtroom in Central Islip.

“I think you will learn, if you haven’t already, in the coming weeks that there’s other police officers that have pled guilty to this,” Burke’s defense attorney, Joseph Conway, told reporters gathered along a walkway next to the courthouse parking lot.

“There were other individuals, as he [Burke] said, in the room with him and these are the individuals he conspired with,” Conway said.

That room is at Suffolk’s Fourth Precinct, where admitted heroin-addict Christopher Loeb was taken Dec. 14, 2012, after his arrest for stealing from a number of vehicles, including a department-issued SUV parked in front of Burke’s home.

On Friday, for the first time, Burke admitted in court what happened in that room, where Loeb was chained to the floor, that day.

“I, along with others, willfully used unreasonable force and slapped and hit this individual, causing bodily injury,” Burke said, reading from papers at the defendant’s table, where he sat wearing a federally issued detention uniform.

A few minutes later, Burke acknowledged that he and others were involved in a coverup that began sometime in December 2014, when a federal grand jury began investigating the beating allegations.

“I was aware that there was a grand jury investigation regarding the violation of civil rights being conducted by the U.S. attorney’s office,” Burke said.

“I and others did knowingly and intentionally conspire and took affirmative steps to obstruct, including conspiring with other participants not to cooperate with the investigation, so that the grand jury and the U.S. attorney’s office would not find out the true events of Dec. 14, 2012,” he said.

So far, no other Suffolk police personnel have appeared in open court on the matter, although sources have told Newsday that some police and others were believed to have been cooperating with federal officials in the Burke investigation.

What does Burke’s conviction mean for Suffolk County?

Loeb’s attorney, Bruce Barket, told the gaggle of reporters huddled against the wind outside the federal courthouse Friday: “Today, I think, was the first step in the reform of the Suffolk County law enforcement community. My guess and anticipation is the investigation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office ... is not over.”

He added, “Our civil rights case has always been about abuse of power and a coverup in Suffolk County.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who had appointed Burke, issued a terse statement Friday about Burke, whom he had continued to defend, even through allegations that Burke had beaten a prisoner.

“Jim Burke, someone I entrusted with great responsibility, lied to my face for nearly three years and orchestrated a cover-up to perpetuate that lie,” Bellone said. “Burke’s guilty plea today is a positive step forward in restoring justice in this County.”

How positive, however, remains to be seen.

How deep does corruption in Suffolk law enforcement go?

How wide?

As Eastern District U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers indicated in a statement last week, the investigation is ongoing.

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