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Ex-detective testifies he put his family in hotel due to concerns in alleged Burke cover-up case

Former Suffolk DA top aide Christopher McPartland, left,

Former Suffolk DA top aide Christopher McPartland, left, and former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota arrive at U.S District Court in Central Islip on Wednesday. Credit: Composite: John Roca

This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy and Michael O'Keeffe. It was written by Murphy.

An ex-Suffolk detective said Wednesday he stashed his family at a hotel before testifying to a grand jury about the alleged attempt by then-District Attorney Thomas Spota and a top aide to help conceal then-Police Chief James Burke's assault on a handcuffed prisoner.

Kenneth Bombace, testifying with immunity for a second day in the federal obstruction trial of Spota and Christopher McPartland, Spota's former anti-corruption unit chief, said he feared police officials would confront him at his home before his grand jury appearance in October 2015.

The prosecution witness said the pressure to keep hiding the crimes of Burke, Spota's protégé, grew so intense in the aftermath of the December 2012 beating of burglary suspect Christopher Loeb that he tried unsuccessfully to transfer out of the intelligence unit before retiring in September 2015. 

Bombace told jurors in U.S. District Court in Central Islip that he checked himself and his family into a hotel in Nassau County for three days before the federal grand jury proceeding.

The witness said he also feared he or his family would face criminal charges if he testified honestly about the Smithtown man's police precinct beating.

Federal prosecutors have alleged Spota and McPartland orchestrated a cover-up with Burke to try to protect him after he beat Loeb on Dec. 14, 2012, after the then-heroin addict stole a duffel bag from Burke's department vehicle hours earlier.

Spota, 78, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 53, of Northport, are standing trial on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of Loeb's civil rights.

Both maintain their innocence and say they couldn't have been part of trying to conceal Burke's actions because Burke never admitted his guilt to them.

In November 2016, a federal judge sentenced Burke to 46 months in prison for the attack on Loeb and cover-up after his guilty plea in February of that year. The ex-chief served most of his sentence before his release last year to home confinement.

Bombace testified Wednesday that Lt. James Hickey, whom he named Tuesday as Burke's "middleman" in the attempted cover-up, denied his 2014 request for a transfer out of the criminal intelligence unit.

Also that year, another now-former Suffolk detective, John Oliva, was criminally charged after leaking confidential information to the media, Bombace told jurors. He said that also made him anxious about becoming a target of those in charge.

"I feared I could be targeted if I was perceived to be an enemy of the established power structure," Bombace said — referencing Burke, Spota and McPartland.

Bombace said Anthony Leto, another detective who, like himself, took part in Loeb's beating, told him he feared that his sons — who had started to drive — would be pulled over by Suffolk police and criminally charged.

"We were concerned if we were to cooperate, even our families, even his sons ... were at the age they were driving, they could be pulled over and something could happen," the witness said.

But Bombace said after he was subpoenaed in June 2015 to appear before the grand jury — with immunity — he called Hickey because otherwise "red flags would go up that I was cooperating."

Bombace said that right before his retirement, he saw McPartland at a golf outing and the prosecutor asked him to come to his office to talk about policing.

"My understanding was that like other people he was afraid I was retiring and I would testify," the witness said of McPartland.

Bombace also said that before his grand jury testimony, he met with Leto on a lacrosse field.

Bombace told Leto he planned to testify truthfully, but was worried Leto and Michael Malone — another detective who he said was part of Loeb's beating — would get in trouble.

Leto asked Bombace if he was wearing a wire, according to the witness.

But Bombace said he told Leto he wasn't and asked him to share his intentions with Malone.

"I told him I was going to tell the truth and they should, too," Bombace recalled, saying Leto seemed relieved.

The prosecution witness said he also shared his plan to testify truthfully before the grand jury with County Executive Steve Bellone, saying the two became friends after he had provided security for him.

During a cross-examination, Bombace admitted he never spoke to Spota or McPartland about the assault or alleged cover-up conspiracy.

The witness told Spota's attorney, Alan Vinegrad, he never told Hickey "exactly what happened in there," a reference to Loeb's interview room beating. 

Bombace also agreed Hickey never told him about conversations he claimed to have with Spota.

During questioning by Larry Krantz, McPartland's lawyer, Bombace said he didn't discuss anything about Loeb or Burke when he talked to McPartland at the golf event.

On Tuesday, Bombace told jurors Loeb's beating happened during a "very chaotic" few minutes in a precinct interview room, with himself, Leto, Malone and Burke "cursing and screaming" as Burke "punched" Loeb.

The detectives had slapped Loeb and tried to get him to confess before Burke came into the room, Bombace said.

In other testimony Wednesday, former Suffolk prosecutor Spiros Moustakas described how he got a call from McPartland at 8 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2012, saying someone had broken into Burke's car and he wanted him to handle the case.

Moustakas, who worked in the anti-corruption bureau, said it was unusual for him to get such an assignment — but that wasn't the only odd part.

Moustakas said he went to court the next day, a Saturday, to handle Loeb's arraignment. But he said Loeb wasn't brought to court because of what a sergeant called a "manpower" issue.

Besides that, the witness said Malone, the intelligence unit detective, had called him a day earlier and said another detective would reach out asking for a search warrant for items already seized from Loeb's home.

"In my career," Moustakas testified, "I have never had these two things happen, no less together in one case."

Moustakas also recalled meeting with McPartland and Emily Constant, Spota's chief deputy, after Loeb's attorney said her client had been "abused" and the case had "serious problems."

Moustakas said Spota came in the room and zeroed in on an evidence photo of a porn video found in Loeb's house, before Spota and Constant talked about "whether there would be fingerprints on it."

Prosecutors have said the video was one of items that had been in Burke's stolen bag.

Loeb's lawyer also had demanded to know what time Burke arrived at the precinct and wanted a list of officers present when Burke "was allowed unfettered access" to Loeb "to interrogate and otherwise terrorize him," Moustakas said.

The witness said Spota asked if there were surveillance cameras at the precinct or a sign-in book.

Moustakas said McPartland then told Spota it didn't matter, before McPartland added: "Everybody's gonna remember James Burke, he's the chief of department."

In other testimony, Joseph Sawicki, Suffolk's assistant deputy police commissioner for finance, recalled Wednesday how Burke was aboard a fishing boat trip he organized in June 2013 — a day when the FBI issued multiple subpoenas — when Burke told him to turn the vessel around.

Sawicki, Suffolk's former comptroller, said the boat had left a short time earlier from Orient Point, but Burke told him he had to go back because he had gotten a call and "had to meet with the FBI."

Three years later, when golfing with Spota in spring 2016, Sawicki said he told Spota he felt sorry for Burke — who had pleaded guilty that February.

He said Spota replied: "Don't feel sorry for Burke, Jim did it to himself. He had no business going to the precinct that day."

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