A judge set bail at $200,000 on Thursday for the suspect facing drug and gun charges following Tuesday's police raid on the motor yacht Jess Conn in Nantucket Harbor.
Scott Anthony Burke, 69, a retired surgeon who now lives in Florida, appeared in Plymouth District Court for a pretrial detention (dangerousness) hearing late Thursday morning to determine whether he would be held in custody for up to 120 days during the pretrial process.
After hearing arguments from Cape & Islands Assistant District Attorney Michael Preble and Burke’s attorney Henry Brennan, Judge James Sullivan ruled that Burke was not a danger to the community and opted not to hold him in pretrial detention. However, given Sullivan's concerns about Burke’s ability to return to court for subsequent hearings, bail was set at $100,000 per case ($200,000 total).
Brennan told the Current he expects bail will be posted, and that Burke will soon return to Florida to be with his family.
Preble argued that Burke, who was arraigned Wednesday in Nantucket District Court on several gun and drug charges, was a danger to the community because of the multiple firearms (one fully loaded) found aboard his yacht, as well as the amount of drugs - approximately 43.4 grams of cocaine and 14.1 grams of Ketamine. The prosecutor also expressed concern regarding the woman who was removed from the vessel Tuesday morning, who told police she felt unsafe on the boat and may have overdosed or overconsumed some sort of narcotic.
“Judge if you're otherwise not considering holding him in pretrial detention the Commonwealth would suggest that some amount of cash bail is warranted approximately $10,000 would be the suggestion, as well as conditions for him to surrender his passport and to have no contact and stay away from the witness - the young woman that is involved,” Preble said.
Preble also stated that the yacht owned by Burke is his primary residence, which underscored his argument for Burke to be held based on the risk of him not reappearing in court
Brennan spent much of the hearing describing Burke’s past, which he said was filled with humanitarian acts that Burke has never sought notoriety for. Burke was a surgeon for 35 years and Brennan said he had personal empathy for his patients, so much so that he sometimes opted against giving surgeries that could make him a lot of money because it wasn’t in the best interest of the patient.
Brennan said that Burke was the second doctor on the ground following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to assist victims and that he performed over 110 surgeries there, mostly on children. He said Burke acquired wealth during his time as a surgeon but gave most of it away to colleges and scholarships “not asking for a plaque, not asking for an article, not writing it off on his taxes, because his property as he sees it is on loan, not his.”
Brennan also revealed that Burke is suffering from stage four, terminal cancer, and that he likely does not have long to live. He argued that given Burke's lack of a criminal record and his current medical condition, the court should opt against holding him in custody on pretrial detention before he has been convicted of any crimes.
“To have this man potentially spend the rest of his life waiting for a case in jail, to me, would be very, very tragic,” Brennan said.
The initial response to the vessel was due to a "report of a female party, on board a yacht, who did not want to be there, was under the influence of narcotics, and possibly has overdosed," according to a police report. Investigators, including a DEA special agent, boarded and searched the Jess Conn at 3:25 p.m., according to court documents obtained by the Current. They confiscated 43.4 grams of cocaine, 14.1 grams of ketamine, and two pistols - a .380 Smith Wesson Shield and a 9mm Smith & Wesson - along with various ammunition.
Burke is facing charges of possession of a firearm without an FID card (two counts), possession of ammunition without an FID (two counts), possession of a Class B substance (cocaine), trafficking a Class B substance over 36 grams but less than 100 grams (cocaine; approximately 43.4 grams), possession with the intent to distribute a Class A substance (ketamine; approximately 14.1 grams), possession of a firearm without an FID, and possession of a large capacity feeding device (four counts).
In the Current’s initial coverage of the raid on the yacht, it was reported that several sources with knowledge of the investigation indicated there were one or more individuals engaged in prostitution on the boat. However, to this point, no charges have been brought for alleged prostitution and there has been no mention of such activity on the boat in the Nantucket Police Department's reports filed with the court, or mentioned by Preble during Thursday's detention hearing.
"Anybody who is an anonymous source can say anything they want," Brennan told the Current. "Even the government never alleged prostitution or sex trafficking...You didn't hear a whisper of any type of that behavior. I find it disgusting, morally offensive, and it's slandering a good person."
Brennan did mention the woman who was taken off the Jess Conn in his comments to the judge on Thursday and stated why Burke, who has no Nantucket ties and is based in Florida, was on Nantucket in the first place. Brennan claimed that Burke had a party on the yacht in Nantucket Harbor with over a dozen guests and that he was waiting for the captain of the vessel to return from a wedding. The woman who required medical attention had allegedly asked to stay an extra few days.
“When he came to this area he met up with a number of friends in the area, some I have talked to,” Brennan said. “There was a party on the boat and he was spending time with friends. As we suggested, the boat is large. He has a captain. He has staff. There was a cook. And sometimes there are people who serve as staff waiters, cleaners and things like that. Up in this area, they had over a dozen guests for the week that preceded the search of this. Everybody had left the boat other than one woman the day before because there was a wedding the captain had to go to. The party was over and people went back their own ways. (Burke) was waiting for the captain to return. The young woman, who was actually a friend of the captain and on staff, asked to stay a few extra days."
After both sides presented their arguments, Sullivan addressed them saying that he wasn’t going to hold Burke in custody but had “grave concerns” over whether Burke would return to court for pretrial hearings.
“First and foremost, the defendant's not a resident of the Commonwealth. (Burke), as Mr. Prebble correctly points out, can lead somewhat of a nomadic existence if he's tied to a boat which could easily leave the jurisdiction of not only the Commonwealth but the United States,” Sullivan said. “So the risk of flight is what does concern the court, particularly where the defendant is facing a number of minimum mandatory potential sentences at this point. Right now I have a defendant before me who is looking at a minimum of three and a half years in state prison.”
Sullivan also said that while he has no reason to doubt the humanitarian gestures and reputation Burke has built for himself, he had a hard time connecting the version of Burke that Brennan described with the one currently facing several gun and drug-related charges.
“The court has some difficulty in trying to figure out how we get from a noble, humanitarian reputation and gestures – and I certainly have no reason to doubt any of that – but how we get from there to a yacht on Nantucket with a young woman who is either overdosing or over-consuming some sort of illicit narcotics, has to be hospitalized and taken off the boat, and also indicates that she did not feel safe on the boat and within it was the only other person on that boat,” Sullivan explained. “The weapons I do understand. Certainly, the defendant was at one time properly licensed and in Florida legally entitled to have those. But the amount of cocaine is where the court has a tough time justifying or connecting the two versions of Mr. Burke. Obviously, he has a substantial history in terms of his employment and in terms of the aid that he's rendered to numerous people in his career as a physician. I’m then somewhat puzzled how we get from there to a boat in Nantucket Harbor with cocaine in it.”
Burke had a probable cause hearing scheduled for October 16. That hearing will be held on Nantucket. This story will be updated.