NYC Union Corruption Case Ends in Mistrial

Prosecutors say Norman Seabrook took kickbacks as president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association in exchange for steering $20 million in worker retirement funds to the hedge fund Platinum Partners.

MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge declared a mistrial Thursday after a jury’s second report of a deadlock on corruption charges against the former head of New York’s powerful prison guards’ union.

The jury has been deliberating since Nov. 8 on the two-week trial of former Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association president Norman Seabrook, whom prosecutors accuse of steering $20 million in worker retirement funds to the hedge fund Platinum Partners in exchange for kickbacks.

“After continued spirited discussion and contemplation of the evidence, we find ourselves no closer to reaching a unanimous verdict and see no prospect of making further progress,” the foreman said in a note to the court this afternoon.

Seabrook and his co-defendant, hedge fund founder Murray Huberfeld, quickly moved for mistrials, which U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter wasted little time granting, citing the lack of opposition from Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell.

“I do find that further deliberations are unlikely to result in a verdict,” Carter said.

Seabrook had started the celebrations early — throwing his arms in the air Tuesday and exclaiming, “Thank you, Jesus,” at news of the first deadlock.

The flamboyant former union leader continued his joyful noise Thursday outside the courtroom.

“God is good to me, and I feel great,” he said.

Prosecutors vowed to bring hedge-fund founder Murray Huberfeld to justice after a federal judge declared a mistrial in his bribery case on Nov. 16, 2017.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim confirmed that prosecutors would retry the case.

“We look forward to a retrial where we will present again the powerful proof of how Seabrook allegedly sold his duty to safeguard correction officers’ retirement money to Murray Huberfeld in exchange for cash bribes,” Kim said in a statement. “Although justice has been delayed, we expect it will ultimately prevail.”

Seabrook took the threat in stride.

“When the federal government comes after you, they come after you, so I’m going to weather this storm,” he continued. “I’m going to do what I have to do.”

The government’s case rose and fell with its key witness, disgraced real estate investor Jona Rechnitz, who claimed to have passed a $60,000 bribe to Seabrook on behalf of Huberfeld.

One of the jurors cited Rechnitz specifically as making him skeptical of the government’s case.

“He sounded like he was straight-up lying, like he was in it only for himself,” Bronx chef Joseph Roldan said of Rechnitz, talking to reporters outside the courthouse Thursday.

“Obviously he got hit with 20 years,” Roldan continued. “Why wouldn’t you try to bring down anyone with you?”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is pictured here to the left of Jona Rechnitz, a wealthy real estate investor who pleaded guilty this year to having tried to corrupt the Democrat.

Rechnitz testified against Seabrook and Huberfeld as part of plea deal in which he copped to having tried to bribe them as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and top officials at the New York City Police Department.

Rechnitz received immunity as part of the deal for his involvement in two Ponzi schemes, defrauding a medical insurer and lying on government forms to obtain a gun license.

On the stand, Rechnitz said he brought Seabrook a $60,000 bribe from Huberfeld in a Salvatore Ferragamo handbag, meeting up with the union leader outside a pricey steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan.

Cross-examination undermined Rechnitz’s testimony and character, showing the witness dressed in blackface to a costume party and doctored fake emails to Mayor de Blasio to exaggerate his political influence to an acquaintance.

“He’s pretty much a scumbag, right?” Roldan asked, referring to Rechnitz.

Rechnitz also boasted in his testimony about his access to Mayor de Blasio after maxing out on $4,950 in personal donations and $100,000 bundled funds to the Democrat’s first campaign.

Shaking off the mud from Rechnitz’s testimony, de Blasio easily won re-election last week to another four years in office.

For juror Roldan, however, the trial changed at least one juror’s opinion of Hizzoner.

“A little, I mean [de Blasio]’s hanging out with people like Jona Rechnitz, so,” Roldan said, his voice trailing off.

Seabrook’s attorney Paul Shechtman described Rechnitz as a defense counsel’s dream.

“If you could spend your life as a lawyer cross-examining Jona Rechnitz, it’d be a very happy life,” Shechtman quipped.

Seabrook and Huberfeld would have faced up to 40 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy and honest services wire fraud.

“Jona Rechnitz was the weakness in this case from the get-go,” Shechtman said. “If they retry it, he’ll be the weakness in this case.”

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