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Long IslandCrime

Burke, former chief at heart of Spota case, receives $145G pension

FBI agents arrest the former chief of police

FBI agents arrest the former chief of police of the Suffolk County Police Department, James Burke, outside his Smithtown home on Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

James Burke, the imprisoned former Suffolk police chief at the center of the indictments of Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and a top aide, currently collects an annual pension of $145,485, according to state records.

That taxpayer-funded income is in addition to a one-time $194,901.98 payment he took from his pension when he retired, according to the state comptroller’s office.

And it doesn’t include the nearly $435,000 Burke received in 2016 for unused sick and vacation time.

Spota, 76, announced Thursday that he will leave the office he has held since 2001 after filing for retirement. The amount of his pension has not yet been calculated. Christopher McPartland, 51 — since 2005, the chief of the district attorney’s public corruption unit — has not filed for retirement, a spokesman for the state comptroller’s office said.

Both Spota and McPartland were indicted Wednesday on four counts including conspiracy, witness tampering, and obstruction in connection with the federal investigation of Burke. They have pleaded not guilty.

Public pensions are protected by the state constitution and for the most part cannot be revoked even if the retiree committed a crime in office. A November ballot proposition would amend the state constitution to allow judges to reduce or revoke a pension of a public official convicted of a felony related to his or her duties. If approved, the amendment would apply only to crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 2018.

Judges are allowed to strip pensions of public officials convicted of corruption, but it only applies to appointed and elected officials who joined the pension system after Nov. 13, 2011. The proposed amendment would allow the law to apply to public officials who joined the pension system before then, as well.

Burke, 53, was sentenced in November 2016 to 46 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to covering up his beating of a man who in December 2012 stole a duffel bag out of his SUV that reportedly contained a gun belt, cigars, sex toys and adult pornography.

Burke, whose career in law enforcement spanned three decades, received $434,369.52 for unused sick and vacation time on Jan. 4, 2016, less than a month after his indictment. It was paid according to union contracts, under which police employees receive payouts for up to 120 days of vacation time and 300 days of sick time. Because the payment is set by contract, the county cannot revoke it, a spokesman for the county comptroller said.

Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said that if Burke had been brought up on departmental charges and disciplined, he could have lost days and the payment could have been reduced.

“It’s absurd,” Trotta said. “The guy commits a crime relative to his duties, and we’re paying for it?”

Doug Kellogg, a spokesman for Reclaim New York, a nonprofit government watchdog, echoed Trotta’s sentiment.

“When we have public officials who are entrusted by the public with their trust, it’s absolutely outrageous that when they commit crimes and get convicted of them, that the same members of the public have to pay for them,” he said.

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