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James Burke's lawyer takes the stand

Joseph Conway, attorney for former Suffolk police Chief

Joseph Conway, attorney for former Suffolk police Chief of Department James Burke, on Tuesday. Credit: John Roca

On the stand

Joseph Conway, the attorney for James Burke, found himself on the witness stand in federal court Tuesday — answering questions about Burke, the convicted ex-Suffolk police chief of department; Thomas Spota; Christopher McPartland; and Christopher Loeb.

Conway said that in preparation for the trial, he had talked to prosecutors and defense attorneys for Spota, Suffolk's former district attorney, as well as with McPartland, former head of Spota's anti-corruption bureau.

But once on the stand, he made clear he would not violate lawyer-client confidentiality with Burke.

Still, Conway had plenty to say about Burke, Spota and McPartland.

No reply

Conway, who was under subpoena by prosecutors, testified that it was not unusual for him to talk to other defense attorneys in seeking information when he is representing a client.

And, he said, some of the lawyers representing Suffolk detectives and other police personnel involved in the assault of Loeb and the alleged yearslong cover-up did speak to him.

Then again, some didn't.

"Did you speak to Mr. Hickey's attorney?" prosecutor Nicole Boeckmann asked, referring to James Hickey, a retired police lieutenant who pleaded guilty to taking part in the alleged cover-up.

"I tried, but I did not," Conway replied. "His refusal to talk to me led me to believe he [Hickey] was cooperating" with the government.

In earlier testimony, Hickey, the prosecution's key witness, had said he had decided to cooperate in 2015.

Media, and messages

After Burke pleaded guilty to charges in the Loeb assault and cover-up, Conway testified, "There was a media storm."

At one point, Conway said, Burke asked him to pass a message along to reporters.

"Mr. Burke wanted them to know that he was a stand-up guy … that he was not talking."

Burke wanted that relayed to others, too.

Who else did he ask you to pass it along to, Boeckmann asked.

"Mr. Spota and Mr. McPartland," Conway replied.

"Did you pass it on to Mr. Spota?" Boeckmann asked.

"Yes," came the reply.

"Did you pass it along to Mr. McPartland?"

"Yes," Conway replied.

Stand down

Both the prosecution and defense asked Conway about the decision to keep Burke off the witness stand in the Loeb suppression hearing.

“There was an ongoing [federal] investigation at that point,” Conway said. “I did not want my client taking the stand and giving the government any information.”

"I did not want my client to take the stand to funnel any information back to the government," Conway testified when Alan Vinegrad, Spota's lead attorney, brought the subject up again.

Did Peter Crusco, the special prosecutor from the Queens district attorney's office, accept that decision, Vinegrad asked.

"He did," Conway replied.

“Did you ever discuss that with Tom Spota?” Vinegrad asked.

“No,” Conway replied.

The eyes have it

Conway said he asked Wiliam Madigan, former Suffolk police chief of detectives under Burke, to report back on what was happening during the Loeb suppression hearing.

"He was my eyes and ears," Conway said of Madigan.

"How often did he speak to Madigan?" Boeckmann asked.

"We would speak in a daily basis," Conway replied.

Did Madigan talk to Burke, Boeckmann asked.

"I assume what he was telling me," Conway said, "he was telling Mr. Burke … ”

Never, ever

Conway said he began making calls after he heard that the 2013 federal investigation into the Loeb assault was over.

"Did he get confirmation?" Boeckmann asked.

"You never get confirmation from the federal government," Conway replied. "They, the federal government, never tells you that it is over."

"But there are ways to tell," Conway went on, saying that after speaking to a federal prosecutor, "I was reasonably assured that the investigation was over."

"I immediately told my client," Conway said.

Go west

"Is there a county between Suffolk and Queens?" Boeckmann asked Conway at one point.

"Yes," came the reply.

"Is it a large county?"

"Yes."

"What's the name of that county?"

"Nassau," Conway replied.

"Who was the district attorney in Nassau at that time?"

"Kathleen Rice."

"Did you know Kathleen Rice?"

"Yes."

"What type of prosecutor was she?"

"She was known as a tough prosecutor," Conway said.

Boeckmann then asked whether he was aware of a big case Rice handled in 2012.

But an objection came from the defense — which U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack sustained.

"What was the relationship between Spota's and Rice's offices?" Boeckmann asked.

"From my eyes, and the defense bar, we were led to believe there was not a good relationship between the two offices," Conway said.

Tuesday marked another occasion when prosecutors attempted to introduce Rice's handling of a police corruption case involving William Flanagan, who was convicted on official misconduct and conspiracy charges after Nassau prosecutors alleged that he had abused his position to prevent the arrest of a police benefactor's son.

What's going on

Conway was asked about a telephone call he saw he had received from Spota in 2015 after leaving Fort Dix, the low-security federal correctional facility in New Jersey where Conway had a client.

"Did you know what he was calling about?" Boeckmann asked.

"No, but I had an idea," Conway said.

"He wanted to know what was happening," Conway said a few questions later. “ … He wanted to know if the investigation was back on."

"I explained that the investigation had been restarted, that they were investigating not only the underlying civil rights, but obstruction," Conway testified.

He said he told Spota, "the investigation might have started a while back … that it might have something to do with the prosecution of John Oliva."

Oliva, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after Spota's office filed a felony against him for leaking information to Newsday, was in the courtroom during the testimony.

What did Conway tell Spota?

"I told him, listen, if there was anybody … trying to obstruct the investigation the first time around, they are going to be looking at that."

He said he also told Spota the same thing held for anybody trying to obstruct the new investigation as well.

Flipped

Boeckmann asked about a conversation Conway had with McPartland about former Suffolk Det. Kenneth Bombace, who in 2015 testified truthfully to a grand jury about the assault on Loeb.

Did McPartland "call Ken Bombace something?" Boeckmann asked.

"There was a conversation that we had and he replied to something … that somebody was a rat," Conway replied.

"Is that a term you use?" Boeckmann asked.

"I try not to, but I probably have on occasion," he replied.

"There are lots of different words," Conway went on, "but I like to use ‘flipped.’ ”

Pass it on

The day's penultimate witness, FBI Special Agent Michael Weniger, was asked about telephone records, and emails — and about a Microsoft Word document that had been pulled from McPartland's hard drive.

"It seems to be a criticism of some of the articles that were being published in Newsday, particularly about James Burke," Weniger testified.

Somewhere around the same time, Weniger said, Burke sent an email from his home computer to his work computer — and from there to Jon Schneider, who in 2013 worked for Steve Bellone, Suffolk's county executive.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Maffei asked Weniger to read portions of McPartland's Word document and the email that Schneider sent editors at Newsday on June 11, 2013.

Some of the sentences and language in that email were "verbatim" with language used in McPartland's Word document.

Maffei asked Weniger to read aloud some examples.

Among them: McPartland's document and the email sent to Newsday included the statement that the use of anonymous sources, "has been banned by many newspapers,” Weniger read.

In 2013, Weniger testified, Newsday published 23 articles about the Loeb investigation, 13 of which were written by a former Newsday reporter whose phone Spota once considered monitoring via wiretap, until he was dissuaded by others in the DA's office.

For the defense

The prosecution and defense, rested on Tuesday — after a flurry of stipulations from both sides and one rebuttal witness from the government.

Earlier, while the jury was out of the courtroom, spectators heard Spota and McPartland speak aloud from the defense table for the first time after Azrack asked each whether they wished to testify.

"No," McPartland replied.

"No," Spota said.

Closing arguments are slated for Wednesday.

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