TODAY'S PAPER
23° Good Evening
23° Good Evening
Long IslandSuffolk

Burke's brother: Guilty plea was 'a tough pill to swallow'

James Burke, former Suffolk police chief of department,

James Burke, former Suffolk police chief of department, in FBI custody in December 2015. Credit: James Carbone

He ain't heavy

"That's my brother, Jimmy," John Toal said Monday when asked to identify a mug shot of his half brother — former Suffolk police Chief of Department James Burke.

"Have you spoken to Mr. Burke about the [Christopher] Loeb assault," Larry Krantz, McPartland's lead attorney, asked later during cross-examination in the trial of Thomas Spota, Suffolk's former district attorney, and Christopher McPartland, former head of Spota's anti-corruption unit.

"I have spoken with him about it, but not in detail," Toal began.

At which point prosecutors and defense attorneys joined U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack at the front of the courtroom for one of this trial's many, many, many bench conferences.

When testimony resumed, Krantz asked, "On occasions when you did speak, did your brother deny that" he had assaulted Loeb?

"We never spoke specifically about that," Toal responded.

“ … He said he never did," he went on, "He never told me."

"He never admitted any guilt to me," Toal said.

"He never said anything to you that he assaulted Loeb, fair?" Krantz asked.

"Fair to say," Toal, who had been subpoenaed to testify, replied. 

No questions

"I never questioned him," Toal went on.

“ … It was more my job as a brother to support him."

When Burke pleaded guilty, Krantz pressed, "Did you ask?"

"No, I didn't," came the reply.

"I just felt like it would have made the situation harder," Toal said. “ … It was a tough pill to swallow for myself and my family … it was not about me questioning my brother."

Seeking help

Toal said he told his brother during a visit that McPartland had asked a family friend, Anthony D'Orazio, for a loan to help pay for McPartland's lawyer.

He said Burke paused for a moment before saying, "Oh, just give him the money from the box," referring to a safety deposit box Toal and D'Orazio had opened at Burke's request.

Burke, Toal said, just wanted to make sure McPartland "was OK."

On redirect, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Boeckmann asked — again — why Toal decided to tell his brother about McPartland's request for a loan.

"It was my brother's request that he wanted to know what was going on, not having access to the outside world," Toal said.

"I thought he would want to know that a friend and a colleague needed help," he testified.

Lean on me

In February 2016, D'Orazio testified, he got a telephone call from McPartland — who had gotten D'Orazio's phone number from Bob Donohue, a Suffolk police officer and friend of Burke's.

"He asked if we could meet, that he wanted to talk to me," D'Orazio testified. “ … I think he said he needed a shoulder to cry on."

And so the pair decided to meet at a Chinese restaurant in St. James.

"I met him inside," D'Orazio said, "and he started telling me that he was involved in an investigation and that he was having problems, financial issues."

"He asked me for $25,000," he said.

"Were you surprised?" Boeckmann asked.

"Yes, I was," came the answer. “ … Well, it is not an everyday occurrence."

"I was surprised he was asking me," D'Orazio went on. "While I considered him a friend, I did not consider him close enough."

"I told him that I felt for him," D'Orazio said, "I would like to help him but that I did not feel comfortable committing to him at that time."

An envelope of cash

After Burke decided to give McPartland cash, D'Orazio met McPartland again — at the same restaurant, but in the parking lot.

McPartland joined D'Orazio in D'Orazio's car, where he sat in the front passenger seat.

D'Orazio said he gave McPartland an envelope.

"He seemed to be surprised that it was an envelope full of cash," D'Orazio testified. "He seemed to be relieved."

"I said, Chris, I'm not the only one you should be thanking," D'Orazio said, intending to go on and say that Burke had extended the loan.

But, he said, he did not tell McPartland where the money had come from.

"Why?" Boeckmann asked.

"Because he stopped me," D'Orazio said.

The question came up, again, on redirect.

"Did you believe Mr. McPartland didn't want to know that the money was from Jimmy?" Boeckmann asked.

"I guess it is possible," D'Orazio replied.

The old man

Later, during a text exchange Burke and D'Orazio had while Burke was jailed, Burke asked, according to testimony: "Did you give a cigar to the old man?"

D'Orazio indicated that he had.

Under continued questioning from Boeckmann, D'Orazio indicated that the "cigar" was code for the cash and that "old man" was code for McPartland.

In a frenzy

Burke was "upset, in a frenzy" and "very much on edge" during the summer of 2015, Barbara Craft, a former girlfriend, testified.

"He was afraid the investigation was back on," she said.

"Did he say what investigation?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz asked.

"The Loeb investigation," she replied.

"He was worried that people were talking about him," she said. "He was worried that Hickey and Bombace were talking about him."

"Are those the names you heard Mr. Burke say to Mr. McPartland on the phone?" Gatz asked.

"Yes," came the reply.

In earlier testimony, James Hickey, a former Suffolk detective lieutenant, and Kenneth Bombace, a former detective in Hickey's intelligence unit, said they felt pressured by Burke, Spota and McPartland to cover up Burke's assault of Loeb.

The guys

Did you ever hear about "the guys?" Gatz asked.

"What did you hear?" she went on.

“ … If everyone would just be quiet, that this would all go away," Craft said.

By the fall of 2015, she testified, Burke was worried.

"He was afraid that Hickey was going to talk about him," Craft said.

"Did he call Mr. Hickey a particular word?" Gatz asked.

"A rat," came the reply.

A mantra

Craft repeatedly said Burke did not talk to her about the Loeb case.

But she did hear him say some things.

"He would just say that if everyone would just keep their mouths shut that none of this would happen," she testified.

"If no one talks, then Jimmy stays out of jail, right?" Gatz asked later, on redirect.

"Objection," Krantz said.

"Overruled," Judge Azrack said.

"Yes," Craft replied.

Whodunit

Thomas Palmieri, a retired Suffolk police assistant chief, testified earlier Monday that in December 2011, he had been summoned to the office of then-Suffolk DA Spota in Hauppauge.

Spota was not there. But McPartland was.

"He first asked me to come to the DA's office," Palmieri said. “ … I jumped right into my car … ”

"Did he say why he wanted you to see you?" asked Gatz.

"No, he just asked me to come down to the DA's office," Palmieri replied. "My initial reaction was that a cop from the First [Precinct] got jammed."

There was no discussion about officers, in the First Precinct or anywhere else.

Instead, Palmieri said, McPartland asked about an anonymous letter critical of Burke that was circulating around Suffolk.

"He just wanted to know if I had any information," Palmieri said, "that the letter was so specific in containing information that likely was sourced from confidential records."

"That could be a crime," he said.

"Did he tell you why he was asking these questions?" Gatz asked.

Palmieri said there had been plentiful rumors going around the department, and that he himself had speculated that an insider may have written the letter.

"There are no secrets in the police department," he testified.

"James Burke has some friends, he has some enemies," he said, "I was convinced it was going to come out."

At some point, Patrick Cuff's name came up in the meeting.

"I have no information that Pat Cuff wrote the letter or anyone else," Palmieri said he told McPartland.

McPartland, in return, said "that he was going to investigate the source of the letter and who had written it," Palmieri testified.

During that testimony, Cuff — who was busted down four ranks once Burke became chief of department — was sitting in the courtroom in the spectator section behind the prosecution table.

Almost over

Azrack told jurors — before dismissing them early, at 2:44 p.m. on Monday — that she expected testimony in the case to end, and summations from both sides to occur, this week.

Comments

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

Latest Long Island News