TODAY'S PAPER
39° Good Evening
39° Good Evening
Long IslandSuffolk

McPartland took jailed ex-police chief's cash for legal defense, witness says

Ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota arrives at federal

Ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota arrives at federal court in Central Islip Monday morning. Credit: John Roca

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

The envelope held $25,000 from jailed former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, but Christopher McPartland asked no questions when he took the cash in early 2016 to pay his own legal bills, a witness at McPartland's trial said Monday.

McPartland, the county's former anti-corruption chief, is standing trial in U.S. District Court for a fifth week with his old boss, ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, after prosecutors say both tried to help conceal Burke's 2012 assault on a prisoner at a police precinct.

But the defense contends Burke never admitted his guilt to them and elicited testimony Monday from witnesses who said there was nothing improper about the loan.  

"I'm not the only person you should be thanking," Anthony D'Orazio said he told McPartland during the money exchange in a car outside a Chinese restaurant in St. James.

The prosecution witness, a longtime family friend of Burke's, said he passed an envelope full of $100 bills from a bank safe deposit box loaded with Burke's cash to McPartland as McPartland was scrambling to finance his own defense after learning he was a target in a federal probe.

But McPartland held up both hands in a gesture that stopped D'Orazio from saying anything else that day about where the money came from, according to the witness.

"Listen, all I know is that I came to you for help and you gave me the money," D'Orazio said McPartland told him before thanking him.

D'Orazio, a 55-year-old property and construction management consultant who met Burke during high school, said he didn't tell McPartland more about the money because McPartland seemed "so grateful ... he didn't care" and "because he stopped me."

The witness explained during questioning by prosecutor Nicole Boeckmann that the exchange happened after McPartland first approached him and asked him for help paying his legal bills.

D'Orazio said McPartland got his phone number from a mutual friend of his and Burke's — a Suffolk cop — before telling him "he needed a shoulder to cry on" and wanted to meet. 

McPartland then asked during an initial meeting at the same St. James restaurant for a loan "to pay his attorney" because he was being investigated as part of the case that landed Burke behind bars, the witness said.

"I didn't think he was close enough to ask for that kind of money," D'Orazio added of McPartland's request for $25,000, which he said surprised him.

D'Orazio said he told McPartland he sympathized with him but couldn't help.

But later, D'Orazio said he shared McPartland's request with Burke while visiting Burke at a Brooklyn jail.

"He looked right at me and said 'I will secure the funds,'" D'Orazio recalled.

The witness said Burke also seemed surprised by McPartland's request.

"I think he said 'He must be desperate,'" D'Orazio recalled.

The witness said he and Burke's half-brother John Toal, an NYPD officer, then retrieved $25,000 from a bank safe deposit box at the end of February 2016 before D'Orazio gave McPartland the payout.

McPartland offered to mail him a note promising to repay the money, "but he never provided it," D'Orazio added.

The witness said he later called Toal and advised that he'd given the money to McPartland.

From behind bars, Burke also reached out to make sure McPartland got the cash, the witness said.

Burke messaged D'Orazio, using a service available to federal inmates, according to the witness.

"Did you give the cigar to the old man?" D'Orazio said the message asked.

"Cigar" was a code word for money and "old man" was a reference to McPartland, he said.

D'Orazio said he answered Burke in the affirmative, and also let him know when he got a federal subpoena a year later.

The witness agreed later during a cross-examination by Larry Krantz, McPartland's attorney, that he never told McPartland the money came from Burke.

D'Orazio also said Burke heard of McPartland's money request during the same jail visit in which Burke shared with some of his family members and D'Orazio that he was going to plead guilty in the case against him.

D'Orazio said during further questioning by McPartland's attorney that Burke never told him he had assaulted the prisoner.

Burke pleaded guilty in early 2016 to charges connected to assaulting Smithtown man Christopher Loeb in the Fifth Precinct station on Dec. 14, 2012, and trying to cover it up.

The assault occurred after Loeb stole a duffel bag from Burke's department vehicle with items inside it that included Burke's gun belt, ammunition, sex toys, pornography and Viagra, testimony showed.

Burke served most of a 46-month prison sentence before his release to home confinement last year.

Spota, 78, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 54, of Northport, have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of Loeb's civil rights.

Spota and McPartland say they couldn't have been part of trying to conceal Burke's actions because he never admitted his guilt to them.

In other testimony Monday, Toal — Burke's half brother — detailed how he helped D'Orazio get the money to McPartland.

Toal said D’Orazio contacted him in February 2016 and reported that McPartland had asked him for $25,000 to put toward his defense — money D’Orazio said he didn’t have.

Toal, 36, also recalled telling Burke about the request while visiting him in jail with D’Orazio.

“My brother looked at me and said ‘Give him the money from the box,’” the witness added.

Toal said he and Burke, who have the same mother, shared a safe deposit box at a TD Bank in Smithtown where they stored cash they found at her house.

Toal said he and D’Orazio got a second box at another TD branch because of concern the money would be inaccessible if something happened to him at work while Burke was behind bars.

D’Orazio had access to the second box, Toal testified.

He said the two moved about $40,000 in cash and other contents to it, before later taking $25,000 out that D’Orazio delivered to McPartland. 

Toal, who said he was living with Burke at the time of Burke's arrest, said Burke asked him to take care of his finances and his house while he was incarcerated.

Burke got a lump sum of $225,000 for unused sick and vacation days when he retired, Toal said.

The witness told Krantz during a cross-examination that his half-brother never admitted to beating Loeb before his guilty plea. He also testified that there was nothing improper about the loan to McPartland.

In other testimony, a former Suffolk assistant police chief said McPartland asked him for a meeting in 2011 while investigating who wrote a negative letter about Burke as Burke tried to become police chief.

"He asked me if I knew the author," prosecution witness Thomas Palmieri, now retired, testified about his meeting with McPartland regarding the anonymous letter.

The letter indicated "dedicated hard working members" of Suffolk's police department wrote it, and warned Burke frequented prostitutes, including one who stole his gun, Newsday previously reported.

Suffolk Democratic Party chairman Richard Schaffer testified earlier in the trial that he introduced Burke to Steve Bellone, then county executive-elect, before getting the letter in December 2011 as Burke sought the appointment as the police department's top uniformed cop.

The anonymous letter sparked a response from Spota, who raved about Burke's "outstanding leadership" in a letter to Bellone's transition team that defended Burke, then his longtime chief investigator, Schaffer testified.

Palmieri also said Monday that McPartland told him that whoever wrote the letter had access to confidential police records and he was investigating the breach.

"I had no idea the letter existed," Palmieri told prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz, saying he never talked to McPartland before or after the meeting, which lasted 10 minutes at most.

Jurors also heard testimony Monday from Burke's ex-girlfriend, a 49-year-old teacher and mother of three who said the two broke up "because Jim went to jail."

Witness Barbara Craft said she dated Burke for about two years, and heard him repeatedly talking to McPartland on the phone in the summer of 2015.

One night, he got a call while cooking dinner and it left him "upset, in a frenzy" because he "was afraid the investigation" into Loeb's assault "was back on," Craft said.

Burke also was worried that summer that people "were talking about him," according to the witness, who said she heard him comment: "If everyone would just be quiet, this would all go away."

He also referred to former police lieutenant James Hickey — now the prosecution's star witness against Spota and McPartland — as a "rat," she said.

During a cross-exam, she agreed with McPartland's lawyer that Burke said the allegations against him were "all BS."

But Treinis Gatz later asked Craft what exactly Burke meant when he said "this would all go away" if people didn't talk.

"I don't know," Craft replied, biting her lip and near tears.

The prosecutor then asked Craft if it meant: "If no one talks, Jimmy stays out of jail, right?"

"Yes," the witness said.

The prosecution is expected to rest its case Tuesday.

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Latest Long Island News