In a scathing rebuttal to former Suffolk police chief James Burke’s argument that he should not get any jail time, federal prosecutors filed a memorandum late Monday arguing that he should get the maximum under the terms of a plea bargain — 51 months in jail.
Burke’s request for leniency in a court filing on Friday and the prosecutors’ response comes shortly before he is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. Burke has pleaded guilty to beating in 2012 a Smithtown man, Christopher Loeb, who stole a duffel bag from the chief’s departmental SUV, and then masterminding a cover up of his actions.
The sentencing is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler in Central Islip. Wexler has ordered Burke detained as a danger to the community pending the outcome of the case.
Burke in his plea for leniency made two main arguments: that there were “unique family circumstances” because he was the primary caregiver of his mother, Frances, with whom he lives and who is seriously ill with cancer, and that his criminal actions were aberrant behavior in an “extraordinary career history” in law enforcement.
In their response, Eastern District prosecutors Lara Treinis Gatz and John Durham noted that Burke’s two brothers “are able to care for his mother and are doing so now, ” with one of the brothers living with his mother while Burke has been in jail.
The “defendant’s mother has been suffering with the same health problems for many years, including during the period of time when the defendant committed the instant offenses,” the prosecutors wrote. “In all criminal cases, family members of incarcerated people suffer. It is an unintended and sad consequence of incarceration. It is also one of the risks a defendant assumes when he commits a crime. Simply stated, the defendant’s own conduct is what is preventing him from taking care of his mother . . . ”
As to Burke’s claim that his conduct in the Loeb case was an unusual, unprofessional act, the prosecutors strongly disagreed.
“Contrary to the defendant’s assertion, this is not the first time he violated the public trust and abused his authority as a member of the SCPD,” the prosecutors wrote.
The obstruction in the Loeb case “continued for almost three years” and included working out false statements with some officers to minimize Burke’s actions and intimidating others to get them to go along with the obstruction, the prosecutors said.
“During his career with the SCPD, the defendant was the subject of a number of internal affairs investigations, including a substantiated case in which he was found to have consorted with a convicted felon and failed to secure his service weapon on two occasions, resulting in the loss of those weapons,” the prosecutors said.
“Additionally, the defendant repeatedly abused his authority by having SCPD subordinates transport him and others to and from airports, conduct surveillance on his girlfriends and/or his girlfriends’ ex-significant others, and visit a girlfriend’s house when there was an issue with a handy-man.”
At one point Burke covered up an auto accident when he was driving under the influence and struck another car, causing extensive damage, the prosecutors said. Instead of reporting the incident, Burke and the driver of the other car left the scene and Burke paid out-of pocket to have the damaged car repaired, the prosecutors said.
Burke also took steps to gather information on those he considered enemies, the prosecutors said.
To gain potential blackmail information on a high-ranking civilian police department official who Burke disliked, Burke had a GPS device placed on the official’s car to trace movements, the prosecutors said. Sources have identified that official as Deputy Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis.
Burke “regularly discussed his desire to seek retribution against a list of current and former SCPD personnel who he viewed as disloyal, and recruited others to assist him in these endeavors,” the prosecutors said.
“In sum, characterizing the events (the assault and cover-up) as aberrational or a momentary lapse in judgment is a gross and outrageous understatement,” Gatz and Durham said.
Burke’s attorney, John Meringolo of Manhattan, when asked for comment, said: “More than eighty people have written letters requesting leniency. These are the people who know Mr. Burke best personally and professionally. Their first-hand knowledge should be taken into account.”