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Former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke released from federal prison

Burke, who pleaded guilty to charges of violating a suspect's civil rights, is moved to a halfway house and is scheduled to be out of federal custody next April.

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 the FBI office in Melville on Dec. 9, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke was released from a federal prison on Friday after serving most of his 46-month sentence for beating a handcuffed man who had stolen a duffel bag  from his vehicle and then orchestrating a cover-up of the assault, officials said Monday.

Burke, 54, was transferred from the Federal Correctional Institution in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, to a residential halfway house, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in an email Monday. The facility where Burke is now living is overseen by the New York Residential Reentry Management office, the spokesman said. Federal officials did not provide the location of the halfway house.

Burke is scheduled to be released from federal custody on April 11, 2019, after serving his sentence, according to Bureau of Prisons records. 

Burke, who was Suffolk’s highest-ranking uniformed officer for four years, was arrested in December 2015 after he was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and violating the civil rights of Christopher Loeb, then 26, of Smithtown, and then orchestrating a departmental cover-up of the crime. Deemed by a federal judge as a danger to the community, Burke was denied bail and has remained in federal custody since his arrest. 

In February 2016 he pleaded guilty and the late U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler sentenced Burke to 46 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release on Nov. 2, 2016.

In the federal system, defendants who receive sentences of more than one year are eligible to earn good time credit for up to 15 percent of their sentence.

Burke’s attorney John Meringolo, of Manhattan, said he was unaware of the transfer when contacted by Newsday on Saturday. He did not respond to messages Monday.

Burke was investigated in prison last year after oxycodone was found in his housing area of the low-security federal prison in Allenwood where Burke served the majority of his sentence, sources have said. His attorney said at the time he would be “vindicated.” The result of that investigation was not disclosed by federal officials.

Suffolk police arrested Loeb, a heroin addict, on Dec. 14, 2012, after he was suspected of stealing a duffel bag containing a gun belt, ammunition, sex toys and pornography from Burke’s unmarked police SUV in front of the chief's St. James home. According to prosecutors, Burke beat Loeb inside the Fourth Precinct in Hauppauge. 

Burke acted “as a dictator” as he sought to cover up his crime, a conspiracy that impacted the entire police department, Wexler said as he 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’s attorney Bruce Barket declined to comment Monday on Burke’s release from prison.

Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart both declined to comment Monday on Burke's release.

In 2015, Loeb filed a lawsuit in federal court charging the county, Burke and six other officers with violating his civil rights after he accused the former chief of assaulting him. Several police officials have pleaded guilty in secret to crimes in connection with the Loeb beating and subsequent cover-up, according to Loeb’s attorney and court documents.

Burke’s federal probe led to last year’s federal indictment of former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and top aide Christopher McPartland on charges including conspiracy, witness tampering, and obstruction in connection with the federal investigation of Burke. They have pleaded not guilty. Spota retired days after he was indicted.

In February, the county said it agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle the federal lawsuit brought by Loeb. 

Newsday has reported that Burke collects an annual pension of $145,485, according to state records.

With Andrew Smith

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