James Burke, Suffolk’s disgraced former police chief, smirked as Christopher Loeb, a drug addict and convicted thief, read from a three-page victim-impact statement — most of it aimed squarely at Burke, who beat him in a police station house in 2012.
“You told me that no one would believe me,” Loeb, wearing dark blue jail-issued clothes, said to Burke — who wore an identical outfit, but in federal prison-issued tan — in a U.S. District courtroom in Central Islip Wednesday.
“You told me my word was no good against that of a decorated police chief,” Loeb said, echoing defenses of Burke by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a county police union representative and a statement from the Suffolk police department in the years before federal authorities arrested Burke in 2015.
“You laughed at me when I asked for a lawyer,” Loeb said, as Burke stared hard. “You said to me — quote, unquote — ‘This isn’t ‘Law and Order’ . . . [expletive]’”
From the jury box — where reporters were seated while video and audio of Burke’s sentencing streamed to an overflow audience in an adjacent courtroom — it looked as if Burke and Loeb were locked in a power struggle.
Loeb’s voice broke with emotion from time to time as he talked about how he was beaten by Burke in 2012 after stealing a duffel bag from Burke’s department-issued SUV.
Burke’s stare didn’t.
Not even when Loeb’s statement moved beyond the beating itself, to Burke’s yearslong attempt to orchestrate a cover up.
“Not only did you ruin your own career and reputation, but you also ruined the careers and reputations of your subordinates, who helped you assault me and whom you ordered to help cover up your criminal conduct,” Loeb said as department members who had left Suffolk’s police department or were forced to leave after crossing Burke looked on.
“Your rise to power makes many people doubt the legitimacy of the Suffolk County Police Department and the integrity of the political leaders who promoted you,” Loeb said. With that, he echoed assertions by federal prosecutors in the indictment against Burke and in a pre-sentencing letter to Judge Leonard Wexler that Burke had enlisted help, from inside and outside the police department, in attempting to obstruct a federal investigation into Loeb’s beating.
As such, Burke’s sentencing hardly signals the end of federal investigations into corruption on Long Island.
What will come next?
The pre-sentencing letter to Wexler from Eastern District U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers mentioned that “high-ranking officials” from other county agencies aided Burke’s effort to cover up Loeb’s beating.
And a review of Newsday coverage between Loeb’s arrest, in December 2012 and Burke’s arrest, in December, 2015, shows activity enough that — with the benefit of hindsight — should have sent red flags waving.
On the day of the beating, Burke retrieved evidence by removing his stolen duffel bag from Loeb’s home — a violation of police procedure.
When allegations from Loeb’s mother and later from Loeb came that Burke had been involved in a beating, rather than investigate, Bellone, the union and the police department almost in lockstep stepped up to defend.
No one above Burke in county government pushed for an independent assessment of the claim. It apparently was enough, as Loeb said Wednesday, to take Burke’s word over that of a petty thief and drug user.
Suffolk’s defense of Burke continued — even after a state judge ruled in 2014 that Loeb’s statements to police on the day of his arrest were inadmissible in court because Loeb never was read his rights, and because Loeb had not been brought to court as soon as possible.
And in 2015, deputy county attorney Brian Mitchell told a judge during an initial conference hearing on Loeb’s lawsuit against the county, “We absolutely deny any ill conduct toward this guy.”
As for the impact of Burke’s actions on Suffolk’s police department, and the county’s law enforcement system overall?
According to prosecutors, Burke’s attempted cover-up involved a number of unnamed police officers — along with “the recruiting of high-ranking officials from other county agencies to assist him in the obstruction and to give teeth to his threats.”
Wexler, however, put it best by putting it succinctly:
“He corrupted a system,” the judge said.
“Not on one act, but for three years. ”