Ex-police chief who led Gilgo Beach investigation arrested for sexual misconduct

Posted at 3:45 PM, August 22, 2023 and last updated 10:18 PM, August 22, 2023


NEW YORK (AP) — A former suburban New York police chief who once led the Gilgo Beach killings investigation and later went to prison for beating a suspect was arrested again Tuesday for allegedly soliciting sex at Long Island park.

Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke

FILE – In this Dec. 9, 2015 file photo, former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke is escorted to a vehicle by FBI personnel outside an FBI office in Melville, N.Y. On Friday, Dec. 11, 2015 a judge denied bail for Burke, charged with beating a man who stole sex toys, pornography and other items from his SUV. The chief, who ran one of the country’s largest local law enforcement agencies, is accused of coercing officers under his command to lie about the beating. (Steve Pfost/Newsday via AP, File)

James Burke, Suffolk County’s chief of police from 2012 to 2015, was taken into custody by park rangers around 10:15 a.m. at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park in Farmingville, a spokesperson for County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Burke, 58, is charged with offering a sex act, public lewdness, indecent exposure, and criminal solicitation, Bellone’s spokesperson Marykate Guilfoyle said.

Burke’s lawyer in his previous case died last year. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf regarding Tuesday’s arrest. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Burke led the Suffolk County Police Department for a tumultuous three-year period that culminated in his arrest and guilty plea to federal charges for beating a handcuffed man suspected of stealing pornography, sex toys and other items from his department SUV.

The scandal also toppled the county’s longtime district attorney and the county’s top corruption prosecutor, who were convicted of helping Burke cover up the beating.

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During his tenure, Burke oversaw the high-profile investigation into the deaths of multiple sex workers whose remains were found in the area of Gilgo Beach on a desolate stretch of Long Island coastline.

Burke has been accused of impeding the long-stalled investigation by blocking the police department’s cooperation with federal authorities. A man suspected of committing at least three of the killings was arrested earlier this summer.

Burke resigned in late 2015, just before federal prosecutors charged him in the beating and cover-up that put him behind bars. 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.

Burke served 40 months in prison and was released in April 2019. A subsequent three-year term of supervised release, a form of probation, ended last year.

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.

officer and dog search the Gilgo Beach area on New York's Long Island

FILE – In this March 29, 2011, file photo, a Suffolk County Police Department officer and dog search the Gilgo Beach area on New York’s Long Island. Investigators stymied by a nine-year mystery following the discovery of 11 sets of human remains strewn along a suburban New York beach highway revealed a previously unreleased photograph Thursday, Jan. 15, 2020, of evidence found at one of the crime scenes that they say was handled by an unknown suspect. (Jim Staubitser/Newsday via AP, File)

Spota and Burke had a kinship that dated to the ex-chief’s teenage years in the late 1970s, when he was a star witness in a murder case that Spota was prosecuting.

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Spota later hired Burke to work in his office as an investigator and vouched for him when he was appointed chief of police, one of the largest suburban forces in the country with 2,500 officers.

Burke started out as a New York City police officer in the mid-1980s but soon moved to the Suffolk County department, where he held various roles before becoming chief, including as an undercover narcotics investigator.

Burke, who is unmarried and has no children, has faced previous allegations related to sex workers.

In 1995, a department probe found Burke had a personal relationship with a woman engaged in prostitution and drug dealing, according to a Newsday report.

In 2016, shortly after his conviction on federal charges, a woman who said she worked as an escort accused Burke of hiring her for a drug-fueled party on Long Island.