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Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, who officials say botched the more than a decade-long probe into the Gilgo Beach murders case on Long Island, was arrested Tuesday morning.
At a press conference, Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison revealed that Burke, a convicted felon prosecuted in federal court for beating a handcuffed suspect and covering it up, was newly arrested on multiple sexual misconduct charges. After authorities had received “numerous complaints” about people soliciting sex at the Suffolk County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park in Farmingville, New York, the Suffolk County Park Rangers’ Targeted Response Unit conducted a sting operation.
Undercover rangers engaged one individual during the operation at 10:15 a.m. who “was soliciting for sexual engagement,” Harrison said. “Due to the actions that I am not going to share, this individual was placed under arrest. The rangers ascertained that our perpetrator involved was identified as James Burke, former chief of the Suffolk County Police Department.”
Burke, 58, of Smithtown, New York, was processed at the Sixth Precinct on charges of exposure of a person and public lewdness.
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Former Suffolk County police chief James Burke is escorted to a vehicle by FBI personnel outside the FBI office in Melville, New York on December 9, 2015. (Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
Additional charges were pending, Harrison said. Burke has since been released after being issued a desk appearance ticket to show in court on Sept. 11, Tania Lopez, a spokeswoman for Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney, told Fox News Digital. Fox News Digital reached out to the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office early Wednesday.
Authorities said Burke attempted to leverage his status as a former law enforcement official to get out of the arrest.
“The ranger who made the arrest of Mr. Burke did not know he was [James Burke] … not at first, not until he identified himself and said who he was and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’” Stephen Laton, chief of the Suffolk County Park Rangers, said at the Tuesday press conference.
“He was expressing to us how this would be a public humiliation for him and such,” Sgt. Brian Quattrini, also of the Suffolk County Park Rangers, added.
Burke, Suffolk County’s police chief from 2012 to 2015, led the department through 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.
Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney, center, speaks at a news conference to announce the identity of a Giglo Beach victim called Jane Doe No. 7, as Karen Vergata, on Aug. 4, 2023, in Hauppauge, New York. ( J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images)
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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.
Burke resigned in late 2015, just before federal prosecutors charged him in the beating and cover-up that put him behind bars. He served 40 months in prison and was released in 2019. His probation ended last year. Burke’s lawyer in his previous case died last year, according to the Associated Press.
Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, 81, and the chief of Spota’s anti-corruption bureau, Christopher McPartland, 57, are both serving five-year prison sentences for witness tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Rex A. Heuermann appears before Judge Timothy P. Mazzei in Suffolk County Court on August 1, 2023, in Central Islip, New York. (James Carbone-Pool/Getty Images)
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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 criticized over his handling of the investigation by other law enforcement officials, who said he blocked his department’s cooperation with the FBI.
Thirteen years after the first remains were found, Rex A. Heuermann is suspected of committing at least three of the killings and was arrested earlier this summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Danielle Wallace is a reporter for Fox News Digital covering politics, crime, police and more. Story tips can be sent to [email protected] and on Twitter: @danimwallace.