MANHATTAN (CN) – The disgraced power broker called to testify this week against an indicted union leader has spent the better part of six days narrating an elaborate pay-for-play scheme.
Jona Rechnitz’s testimony has sullied the names of a New York City mayor, right before an election, and threatened to send powerful law enforcement figures to prison.
Rechnitz’s credibility as the government’s star witness took a plunge Thursday, however, when confronted about a racist costume.
Leaked to the New York Post on Halloween, Rechnitz’s photo shows him dressed as the Abracadabra store's cartoonish “Daddy Pimp” — decked out with gold teeth, dark shades, a blinged-out necklace, a scarlet robe, and a face slathered in black paint.
Court documents show that Rechnitz called former President Barack Obama and another unidentified person a “schvartze,” a derogatory Yiddish word for black people.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell, who is black, initially urged the judge not to admit the explosive evidence.
“It goes without saying that blackface, as it has appeared over the decades since coming into fashion in 18th century American theater, is vile,” Bell wrote in a memo on Tuesday. "Racial epithets and derogatory racial terminology are abhorrent. The practice of blackface and the use of such terms are widely and correctly derided, and are seen as markers of either a lamentable ignorance of their history, at best, or an inexcusable racial animus, at worst.”
But Bell argued that exposing these facts about the government's star witness would prejudice the jury.
Although he would not allow the photo into evidence, U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter allowed defense attorneys for former prison union chief Norman Seabrook and hedge fund tycoon Murray Huberfeld to grill him about the blackface image.
Seabrook, the former president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, stands accused of steering $20 million in his workers’ retirement funds to Huberfeld’s fund Platinum Partners in exchange for $60,000 in a Salvatore Ferragamo satchel.
Rechnitz claims he passed off that bribe in the bag in a vehicle near La Brouchette, a pricey kosher steakhouse in Midtown.
Seabrook’s attorney Paul Shechtman sought to parade the racial skeletons in Rechnitz’s closet before the jury to undermine the witness’s credibility.
Though Seabrook is black, both Rechnitz and Huberfeld are white Orthodox Jews. Addressing Seabook’s diverse jury Thursday — at least five of them black — Rechnitz chalked the pimp get-up to an innocent Purim costume.
Claiming not to know what “blackface” means, Rechnitz said that he wore white face paint with it on some days and black paint on others. He also denied that “schvartze” was a slur, noting that its literal translation means “black.”