Citing his 75-year-old mother’s long bout with cancer, ex-Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke begged a federal judge for leniency when he’s sentenced next week, saying it would be “unbearable” to be in prison while the family matriarch’s condition deteriorates.
In a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler, Burke apologized for his discretions and played up his three decades on the police force, which ended last year in disgrace when Burke was arrested for beating a suspect and a twisted plot to cover it up. Burke, who is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, faces up to 51 months in prison under the plea deal. He has been held without bail since his arrest last December.
“The greatest consequence involves my mother,” a supposedly remorseful Burke wrote to Wexler. “She was a single mother who suffered through much tragedy in her life and made many sacrifices in raising me and my siblings. In 1999, at age 59, she was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. In what I considered the greatest quest of my life, I took control of her health care and was involved on a daily basis with her treatment. It is now 17 years later and she now 75 years old. Her situation is nothing short of a medical miracle. She is presently undergoing immunotherapy, is confined to a wheelchair and requires oxygen 24 hours a day. She struggled to write you a letter in her own hand.”
“It would be unbearable for me to be in prison as her condition deteriorated and she passes from this earth, severely restricted in my ability communicate,” he continued. “I suffered through a life-threatening illness when I was six weeks old. My mom and I have faired the direst of circumstances together. She does not deserve the consequences of dying while her oldest son, who has generally done good for most of his life, is in prison.”
In February, Burke pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations and conspiracy charges for beating burglary suspect Christopher Loeb while the then-24-year-old was in police custody at the Fourth Precinct station house on Dec. 12, 2012. Burke’s subordinates were instructed to lie about the interrogation-room beating.
Loeb had been arrested for breaking into Burke’s police-issued SUV and stealing a duffel bag containing sex toys, porn, and Burke’s gun and ammunition belt when the altercation occurred.
A federal prosecutor said in court that Burke’s porn was the “motivation for beating the hell out of Loeb.”
In his plea to Wexler, Burke apologized to Loeb and the underlings entangled in cover up.
“I sincerely apologize to the victim, to my subordinates who I permitted to take part in these offenses, to my colleagues and those who entrusted me, to the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department, to the citizens of Suffolk County and to you, Your Honor, for my actions,” he said.
Had Burke gone to trial, nearly a dozen officers would’ve testified to the beating, prosecutors claimed.
Burke retired three months prior to his arrest, securing a more than $430,000 retirement payout.
Burke is not the only high-profile member of Suffolk law enforcement to draw federal scrutiny. Since his arrest, reports have surfaced indicating investigators are also looking into alleged improprieties by the Suffolk District Attorney’s office.
With rumors hanging over Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone in May held a stunning news conference in which he called on Thomas Spota, the district attorney, to resign.
“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement from working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and for conspiring to conceal his past…for violating your sacred oath and for using your position as the top law enforcement officer of this county, Tom Spota, you must resign from this office.”
That same day, Spota rebuffed Bellone’s calls to resign and suggested Bellone had requested he intercede on behalf of people the county executive was close to. An exercised Bellone held a follow-up press conference in which he called such claims “nonsense,” adding, “justice needs to be restored to this county.”