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James Burke asks for no prison so he can care for ill mom

Former Suffolk County Police Chief of Department James

Former Suffolk County Police Chief of Department James Burke is escorted to a vehicle by FBI personnel outside an FBI office in Melville on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Former Suffolk police chief James Burke has asked that he not be sent to prison so he can care for his 75-year-old mother who is seriously ill with cancer.

Burke faces up to 51 months in prison at his scheduled sentencing next week for violating the civil rights of a man by beating him and then engaging in a cover-up of the crime.

In a letter filed late Thursday in federal court in Central Islip, Burke expresses remorse and requests that U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler allow him to go free so he can personally tend to his mother, Frances, with whom he lives.

“As you know,” Burke said in the letter submitted by his lawyer, John Meringolo of Manhattan, “there are many collateral consequences associated with my sentencing . . . The greatest consequence involves my mother.

“She was a single mother,” he continued. “In 1999, at age 59, she was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. In what I considered the greatest quest of my life, I took control of her health care and was involved on a daily basis with her treatment. It is now 17 years later and she is now 75 years old. Her situation is nothing short of a medical miracle. She is presently undergoing immunotherapy, is confined to a wheelchair and requires oxygen 24 hours a day.

“It would be unbearable for me to be in prison as her condition deteriorated and she passes from this earth, severely restricted in my ability to communicate,” Burke said.

He began his letter by expressing remorse and stating, “I sincerely apologize to the victim” and to “the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department” and “the citizens of Suffolk County.”

The charges grew out of a situation in which Burke admitted beating a Smithtown man, Christopher Loeb, who had broken into the chief’s departmental sport utility vehicle, stealing a duffel bag. Burke was arrested in December on the charges, more than a month after he had resigned from the department.

Nellin McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Eastern District federal prosecutors, declined to comment on the letter.

In addition to Burke’s appeal to the judge, Meringolo submitted 86 other letters supporting his client, from family members and friends, to community leaders and a number of police officers with whom he had worked.

Nick Amarr, the head of Suffolk Crime Stoppers, submitted a letter seeking leniency, although he said Friday: “I don’t agree with what he did.”

Amarr said he wanted to explain the positive side of Burke’s long career, and stressed that the former chief’s relationship with his volunteer organization was always “professional.” Crime Stoppers works on joint projects with police and raises money to be offered as rewards to help solve crimes.

People with differing views of Burke’s career will likely be given a chance to address the judge before sentencing.

One of Burke’s critics, Suffolk Legis. Rob Trotta, said he plans to speak.

Trotta, a former Suffolk detective, was removed by then-chief Burke from an FBI anti-violence task force.

“Burke’s mother’s long-term illness is indeed tragic,” Trotta said Friday, “but where were his concerns for her when he was committing his crimes and orchestrating a cover-up?”

Burke faces 41 to 51 months in prison when sentenced Wednesday under the terms of a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to the two charges in February. The terms of the plea also call for Burke to serve three years of supervised release and pay a fine up to $250,000.

Burke had faced up to 20 years in prison.

He has been held in a federal detention center since his December 2015 arrest.

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