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Ex-Suffolk chief ‘poses danger to community,’ feds’ memo says

Former Suffolk County police chief of department

Former Suffolk County police chief of department James Burke is escorted to a vehicle by FBI personnel outside the FBI office in Melville on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Former Suffolk police chief James Burke tried to blackmail a top civilian police official, using a GPS device to spy on him. He coerced underlings to lie. And he threatened to exact revenge on those who spoke against him to prosecutors.

These are allegations contained in a sharply worded memorandum filed in federal court urging a judge to keep Burke locked up until trial.

Burke referred to detectives present during the alleged beating of a man who stole items from his department issued vehicle early Dec. 14, 2012, as his “palace guards,” according to the memo, which urged a judge to deny bail for the 30-year lawman.

Prosecutors said the allegations in the memo. filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, showed Burke was such a danger that he should be held until his trial.

“Efforts by Burke to tamper with witnesses and impede the federal investigation have continued to the present, and Burke’s touted connections to law enforcement who remain on duty in the county continue to instill fear,” the memo said.

“This is a message from the federal government to all police officers and chiefs everywhere, that if you step above the law you’re going to jail,” said Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant who teaches criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

Burke pleaded not guilty Wednesday before U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler, who set a bail hearing for Friday. Burke remains in federal custody until then. The memo urged the judge to keep him locked up until trial because he poses a danger to the public.

The memo said Burke threatened to give a fatal “hot shot” of drugs to the Smithtown man who stole items from the former top uniformed officer’s department-issued vehicle.

The threat to Christoper Loeb later on Dec. 14, 2012, came after police found a cache in Loeb’s Smithtown home that included a canvas bag stolen from Burke’s vehicle and goods that had been stolen from numerous other cars, the memo said.

Burke, of St. James, was arrested Wednesday morning on charges of depriving Loeb, an admitted heroin addict, of his civil rights and then conspiring to cover it up during a subsequent FBI and grand jury investigation, according to court documents.

William Cannon, a former NYPD homicide sergeant who teaches criminal justice at Monroe College in New Rochelle, said, “I’m a little baffled it wasn’t handled by the local prosecutor.”

“If a cop makes a mistake it doesn’t make him a bad cop,” Cannon said. “No one likes a bad cop or corrupt cops. The other cops don’t and but fortunately they are few and far in between.”

After Loeb’s arrest, Burke went into an interrogation room, the memo said.

“Though unable to defend himself, Loeb, referencing the pornography he found in Burke’s canvas bag (which he mistakenly believed depicted a minor on a printed cover), called Burke, ‘a pervert,’ ” the memo said.

“Burke then went out of control, screaming and cursing at Loeb and assaulting him until a detective finally said, ‘Boss that’s enough, that’s enough,’ ” the memo said.

It said that Burke knew Loeb was a heroin addict and that he threatened to give him a “hot shot” — the slang term “for either a fatally strong dose of heroin or one mixed with chemicals or poison intended to kill upon injection,” the memo said.

Earlier that day, Burke had gone to the Loeb home and retrieved his canvas bag, the memo said. “In other words, Burke tampered with and removed evidence from a crime scene because he was the ‘Chief,’ and because he knew no one would stop him,” the bail memo said.

At a department event days later, Burke “regaled a group of officers with his account of the assault, saying it reminded him of his ‘old days’ as a young police officer,” the memo said.

“That’s tampering with evidence,” Cannon said. “He’s not allowed to do that and that is a crime. It’s obstruction of governmental justice. It’s tampering with evidence. No, he did not have a right to do that.”

Burke had assured people that a federal investigation was a “fishing expedition,” and he ordered his detectives appointed to a joint federal task force to report to him if they found out anything about the investigation, the memo said.

A police union official told others that some department officials, including Burke, had gotten access to FBI files on the case and would know who was cooperating, the memo said.

“Upon hearing the claim, one SCPD witness told a federal agent that if the claim was true, ‘I’m a dead man,’” the memo said.

After a special prosecutor from Queens was appointed to the Loeb case, Burke called in officers who had witnessed the assault and told them to testify he had just “popped” his head into the interrogation room, the memo said.

One police officer was pressured by Burke in October 2013 to falsify his testimony at the pretrial hearing for Loeb the next day, the memo said.

Fearing retribution, the detective “committed perjury . . . and falsely denied that Loeb had been assaulted,” the memo said.

Burke is the only officer to face charges in the case so far.

In one instance, he had a GPS device installed in the vehicle of a high-ranking civilian employee of the department “to gain information that would enable him to blackmail or force that official out of office,” the memo said.

“They need to clean house. His entire police department needs to be reformed from top to bottom and anybody who is involved in this they should be fired I mean they could even go to jail themselves,” said Giacalone.

With William Murphy.

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