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Former Suffolk Chief of Police James Burke to complete prison sentence Thursday, records show

James Burke, left, former chief of the Suffolk

James Burke, left, former chief of the Suffolk County Police Department, is taken into custody by FBI agents outside his home in Smithtown on Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

Former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke is scheduled on Thursday to finish his federal prison sentence for beating a man who stole a duffel bag from his sport utility vehicle, then taking part in an elaborate scheme to cover up the crime, records show.

Burke, 54, of St. James, was sentenced in 2016 to serve 46 months in prison after pleading guilty to depriving a person of civil rights and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice for beating Christopher Loeb, of Smithtown, an admitted heroin addict who broke into Burke’s department-issued SUV that  was parked in front of the former police chief’s home.

Federal Bureau of Prisons records show Burke is expected to complete his sentence Thursday, but he must still serve 3 years of supervised release, check in regularly with federal probation officers and provide them with monthly statements of his income and expenses. Burke must also allow authorities to search his residence, vehicles and computers.

The former chief, through a source, declined to be interviewed.

Burke’s attorney, John Meringolo, of Manhattan, declined to comment Tuesday.

A source close to Burke said the former chief “has not decided on any plans ... but to take several months to relax ... with boating in the summertime … and stay out of the limelight.”

Paul Tonna, a former presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, however, said in a statement: “James Burke is my friend. He has paid his debt to society. My family and I believe in the power of forgiveness and redemption.”

Among other release conditions, according to court papers, Burke cannot engage in any type of law enforcement employment, possess firearms, or associate with convicted felons without permission of probation officers.

Burke  had been scheduled  for release to a halfway house in November to complete the remaining months of his sentence,  the usual procedure for federal prisoners.

But officials could not find a halfway house willing to accept him because of the possible insurance liability of having a former high-ranking police official living with other prisoners, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Burke was then given a choice of returning to prison or living by himself at home, wearing an electronic bracelet, permitted only to leave for shopping and similar activities, and being regularly visited by federal probation officers, sources said.

Burke chose to live isolated at his home, the sources said.

Burke, who was Suffolk’s highest-ranking uniformed officer for four years, was arrested in December 2015 after he was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and violating the civil rights of Loeb, then 26. In February 2016 he pleaded guilty.

The case started when Suffolk police arrested Loeb, on Dec. 14, 2012, suspected of stealing a duffel bag containing a gun belt, ammunition, sex toys and pornography from Burke’s unmarked police SUV in front of the chief’s St. James home. According to prosecutors, Burke beat Loeb inside the Fourth Precinct station house in Hauppauge.

When Burke was sentenced in 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler, now deceased, said in court in Central Islip that the then-chief acted “as a dictator” in the cover-up that “affected a whole police department.“

“He corrupted a system, not in one act, but for three years,” between the time of the incident and his arrest, Wexler added, noting the time the federal investigation took.

Burke’s sentence did not end the federal investigation into the Loeb case, however, and former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and the head of the office’s anti-corruption unit, Christopher McPartland, were indicted in 2017 on similar charges. Spota and McPartland have pleaded not guilty and their trial is scheduled for November.

In court papers, federal prosecutors John Durham and Lara Treinis Gatz have said two unidentified former Suffolk police officers have pleaded guilty in the case and are cooperating with authorities.

Bruce Barket, the attorney for Burke’s victim, Loeb, declined to comment on Tuesday. John Marzulli, a spokesman for Eastern District federal prosecutors, and Jason Elan, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, also declined to comment.

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