Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke's new home at a residential halfway house in New York City has its benefits over the federal prison where he had been recently serving time for beating a prisoner and then orchestrating a cover-up of the crime.
At the new place, inmates can sign out for approved visits with family and leave the dormlike facility for hours at a time to look for jobs or go to religious services, officials say.
But there are also strict rules.
"During the approved activity, the inmate's location and movements are constantly monitored and RRC staff may visit or call them at any time. In addition, when the inmate returns they may be given a random drug and alcohol test," according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.
John Meringolo, Burke's Manhattan-based attorney, predicted Thursday that his client will adhere to the rules. "He will most certainly be a productive member of society," Meringolo said.
Joseph Conway, the Mineola-based defense attorney who initially represented Burke before Meringolo took the case, said in a text message: "Mr. Burke has paid his debt to society and looks forward to transitioning back upon completion of his halfway house time."
Burke, according to officials at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, was transferred more than a week ago from the low-security Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood, Pennsylvania, to a halfway house, or in BOP lingo, a "residential re-entry center."
He was sentenced to 46 months in prison in November 2016 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and violating the civil rights of Christopher Loeb, then 26. Burke, deemed by a federal judge as a danger to the community, was denied bail and remained in federal custody since his December 2015 arrest. Federal guidelines allow defendants who are sentenced to more than one year to earn credit for good behavior of up to 15 percent of their sentence.
Burke had joined the force in 1986 at the age of 21 and was the second-highest ranking officer in the department for four years before resigning shortly before his arrest in the 2012 Loeb attack.
The federal Bureau of Prisons would not provide the location of the halfway house where Burke will reside until his April 11, 2019, release date, citing inmate privacy. But two sources with knowledge of Burke's placement said he lives at a halfway house in Brooklyn.
The Bureau of Prisons New York Residential Re-entry Management Office monitors halfway houses, which are staffed by private companies contracted to run the facilities. Halfway houses, according to the bureau's website, help prisoners transition back to life on the outside by providing "employment counseling, job placement, [and] financial management assistance."
Halfway houses, the website says, "help inmates gradually rebuild their ties to the community and facilitate supervising ex-offenders' activities during this readjustment phase."
It's unclear if Burke, who is collecting a $145,485 annual pension from his many years as a police officer, will be required to get a job. The Bureau of Prisons would not answer questions specific to Burke. But its website says, "Ordinarily, offenders are expected to be employed 40 hours/week within 15 calendar days after their arrival at the [halfway house.]"
Residents are required to pay a "subsistence fee" of 25 percent of their gross income "to help defray the cost of their confinement."
Dozens of residents of a halfway house for federal prison inmates in Brooklyn — including some from Long Island who said they knew of Burke from news accounts — said they haven't seen the ex-police chief, in interviews as they entered and exited the facility for work or job interviews over several days. Others who were shown photos of Burke and said they hadn't seen him inside the facility.
The three-story building, on Gold Street in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, sits across the street from a high-rise public housing development and just blocks away from gleaming multimillion dollar condominium developments and upscale eateries flanking the East River.
County Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who was a Suffolk police detective assigned to a federal task force when Burke had him and others removed from working with federal agents — a decision he says had dire consequences on law enforcement efforts in the county and led to a flare-up of deadly MS-13 gang violence — said Burke "did his time."
"What the future holds for him, nobody knows. Time will tell."