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Ex-New York police chief who once led Gilgo Beach probe arrested on sexual misconduct charges

Aug 22, 2023, 11:06 AM

FILE — Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, second from right, is escorted to a vehicl...

FILE — Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, second from right, is escorted to a vehicle by FBI personnel outside an FBI office, in Melville, N.Y., Dec. 9, 2015. Burke, 58, who served federal prison time for beating a suspect, was arrested Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, for allegedly soliciting sex and exposing himself at a public park in Farmingdale, on New York's Long Island. (Steve Pfost/Newsday via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Steve Pfost/Newsday via AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — James Burke, a former Long Island police chief who served federal prison time for beating a suspect, was arrested Tuesday for allegedly soliciting sex and exposing himself at a public park.

Burke, 58, was taken into custody by park rangers in a Farmingville, Long Island park shortly after 10 a.m., according to a spokesperson for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. He faces charges of offering a sex act, public lewdness, indecent exposure, and criminal solicitation, with additional potential charges pending, the spokesperson said.

An attorney for Burke could not be reached. The Suffolk County District Attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Burke led the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the nation’s largest police forces, between 2012 and 2015, a tumultuous three-year period that ended with the conviction of Burke and multiple other officials on federal charges of obstruction and assault.

Amid the federal inquiry into his conduct, Burke oversaw the high-profile investigation into the Gilgo Beach killings, in which the bodies of multiple sex workers were discovered on a desolate stretch of Long Island coastline. His handling of the case, including a decision to end cooperation with the FBI, has been widely criticized, drawing renewed scrutiny following the arrest of a suspect in some of the killings earlier this summer.

Burke resigned in late 2015, shortly before federal prosecutors brought charges against him for assaulting a handcuffed man suspected of stealing embarrassing items from his police department SUV, including sex toys and pornography.

He pleaded guilty in 2016 to violating victim Christopher Loeb’s civil rights and obstructing justice for leading a conspiracy to conceal his involvement in the assault. He served 40 months in prison and was released in April 2019.

Burke attacked Loeb in a police station interrogation room after Loeb was arrested for breaking into the ex-chief’s unlocked, department-issued GMC Yukon and stealing a bag containing his gun belt, ammunition, a box of cigars and a bag containing sex toys and pornography.

Loeb’s three-year prison sentence was vacated after Burke pleaded guilty. Authorities suspect he was stealing from cars to buy heroin.

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and the chief of Spota’s anti-corruption bureau, Christopher McPartland, were convicted in December 2019 of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges for helping cover up the assault.

Spota, 81, and McPartland, 57, are both serving five-year prison sentences.

According to federal prosecutors, Spota, McPartland, Burke and other police officers met and spoke by phone to discuss how to conceal Burke’s role in the assault on Loeb. In addition to pressuring people not to cooperate, they asked witnesses to provide investigators with false information and withhold relevant information from investigators, federal prosecutors said.

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Ex-New York police chief who once led Gilgo Beach probe arrested on sexual misconduct charges