Drugs were found in the prison cell of former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke at the federal detention center in Pennsylvania where he’s serving a 46-month sentence for beating a prisoner and orchestrating a cover-up of the assault, sources said on Monday.
Multiple sources said prison officials discovered oxycodone — a controlled substance prescribed by doctors for pain management — taped under a shelf inside the personal locker of Burke, who has been housed at a low-security federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, since late December.
Burke, 52, who was Suffolk’s highest-ranking uniformed officer for four years until his resignation in November 2015, was segregated from other inmates after the oxycodone was found recently and is undergoing drug testing, the sources said. The FBI in Pennsylvania is investigating the source of the drugs, sources said.
The FBI declined to comment.
In a statement Tuesday morning, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said that “for privacy reasons” the department “does not discuss whether a particular inmate is or has been the subject of allegations, investigations, or sanctions for misconduct in prison.”
Burke’s lawyer, John Meringolo of Manhattan, denied that drugs were found in Burke’s locker but said: “My client denies all allegations. He’ll be vindicated.”
Prison officials initially thought the drugs could have been synthetic marijuana, sold under the names K2 or Spice, but determined through laboratory testing that the drug was oxycodone, the sources said.
“That is utterly false,” Meringolo said. “That is so far from the truth.”
Burke pleaded guilty in February 2016 to obstruction of justice and violating the civil rights of prisoner Christopher Loeb, a self-admitted drug addict and petty thief.
In December 2012, Loeb broke into Burke’s departmental sport utility vehicle and stole the chief’s duffel bag, finding a gun belt, magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, sex toys and pornography, prosecutors said.
Burke, a resident of St. James, acted “as a dictator” as he sought to cover up his crime, a conspiracy that impacted the entire police department, according to U.S. Judge Leonard Wexler, who sentenced Burke.
Federal prosecutors said in a pre-sentencing memorandum that Burke’s cover-up scheme included “the recruiting of high-ranking officials from other county agencies to assist him in the obstruction and to give teeth to his threats.”
“SCPD members who witnessed the assault came under direct and extreme pressure from the defendants and others to conceal it,” prosecutors said.
Burke apologized to Loeb at his sentencing. Loeb, 30, of Smithtown, was freed from prison in January after a Suffolk judge set aside his guilty plea in the Burke theft as a result of perjured testimony given by police officers at Burke’s direction.
Burke was held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn before being transferred to the Pennsylvania prison in late December. He did not request any special housing or security arrangements to keep him from potential harm or harassment by other inmates in Allenwood because of his former status as a high-ranking police officer, sources have said.
In the Brooklyn detention center, however, he lived in a unit that did not house violent offenders such as street gang members.
At the Pennsylvania prison, he was housed in a three-man cubicle — each prisoner has a bed and a locker — before he was moved to a special housing unit after the drugs were found, a source said.