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Suffolk legislator wants county to sue former Police Chief James Burke

Legis. Robert Trotta, shown in  Hauppauge on

Legis. Robert Trotta, shown in  Hauppauge on May 30, said he plans to introduce a resolution directing the county to sue James Burke on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A Suffolk County lawmaker is introducing legislation directing the county to sue former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, convicted of beating a handcuffed suspect and orchestrating a cover-up, to recoup the $1.5 million the county paid to the victim in a civil settlement.

Legis. Robert Trotta said he plans on Tuesday to introduce the resolution in an attempt to repay the county taxpayers for the $1.5 million paid to Christopher Loeb, whom Burke beat while the Smithtown man was handcuffed inside a Hauppauge police precinct in 2012.

“It should not be the responsibility of the taxpayers to pay for his criminal activity, period,” said Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Burke, 54, of St. James, was sentenced to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty to violating Loeb’s civil rights and obstruction of justice for instructing fellow officers to lie about the beating to federal authorities. He was transferred from a low-security federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, to a halfway house the day after Thanksgiving.

John Meringolo, Burke’s Manhattan-based attorney who is currently representing a defendant in a high-profile NYPD corruption case on trial in federal court, did not respond to a text message seeking comment Monday morning.

Loeb sued the county, Burke and six other officers in 2015 in federal court for violating his civil rights and the county agreed to the $1.5 million settlement in February, citing Burke’s guilty plea and the possibility of higher costs after a trial.

Bruce Barket, of Garden City, who represented Loeb during the proceedings involving Burke, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

County Executive Steve Bellone’s spokesman Jason Elan attacked Trotta’s resolution as a non-starter.

“This phony proposal by the Republican front-runner for county executive is just his latest attempt to deceive Suffolk taxpayers,” said Elan. Trotta has said he’s considering a run for county executive.

County Attorney Dennis Brown, in a statement, said: “Suffolk County did not pay money on behalf of James Burke. The lawsuit was settled to protect taxpayers and counsel determined that there was no legal basis for the county to seek reimbursement from Burke.”

George Nolan, counsel to the Suffolk Legislature, said he could not comment on the proposal, citing attorney-client privilege.

Trotta said Burke, who receives an annual state pension of $145,485 and got a six-figure payout upon his retirement shortly before his arrest in December 2015, can afford to repay the county.

“Only in Suffolk County can a petty thief make $1.5 million and an admitted felon get a $630,000 payout and receive an almost $150,000 pension,” said Trotta.

The federal probe into Loeb’s beating led to last year’s federal indictment of then-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and top aide Christopher McPartland on charges they were involved in the cover-up. Both Spota and McPartland pleaded not guilty and were released on bail. Spota retired days after he was indicted. Their trial is slated to begin next year.

Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he supports the measure, though he said he hadn’t polled the entire Republican caucus.

“Frankly, I think this should be a non-partisan effort,” said Cilmi. “I’m hopeful that it passes. The taxpayers did not deserve to pay for Mr. Burke’s actions.”

Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), who chairs the Government Operations, Personnel, Housing and Consumer Protection Committee that will consider the resolution, said he had not yet reviewed it.

“I’m not prepared to comment on it just yet,” said Calarco.

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