MANHATTAN (CN) – As New Yorkers headed to the polls on Tuesday, a federal prosecutor here urged jurors to convict the former prison union chief and hedge fund founder tied to a corruption scandal that splashed City Hall.
“Greed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kan Min Nawaday intoned this morning at the start of closing arguments. “That’s what brought Norman Seabrook and Murray Huberfeld together.”
Seabrook, the former president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, stands accused of steering $20 million in his workers’ retirement funds to the hedge fund Platinum Partners in exchange for kickbacks.
“Dues money paid by hard-working corrections officers,” Nawaday said, emphasizing the toll on the workers.
“Dues money, to keep the lights on,” he added.
Huberfeld, who founded the hedge fund, is accused of funneling $60,000 to Seabrook via intermediary to land an institutional investor.
When the men’s trial kicked off two weeks ago, opening arguments shined a spotlight on a crucial piece of evidence — a Salvatore Ferragamo satchel — and a key witness — a disgraced power broker now cooperating with the government.
That witness, Jona Rechnitz, spent six days on the hot seat testifying for the government, describing how he passed off the bag stuffed with cash inside a vehicle near La Brouchette, a pricey kosher steakhouse in Midtown on Dec. 11, 2014.
Jurors saw surveillance video of Rechnitz carting off the handbag, which Seabrook admits to receiving from him as a gift.
Defense attorney Paul Shechtman claimed, however, that rather than cash the bag contained a batch of cigars to celebrate the upcoming Hanukkah holiday.
During trial, Rechnitz testified that he bought Seabrook the purse-size satchel to avoid disappointing the union leader for turning over less bribery money than he was expecting.
Seabrook’s attorney Shechtman ridiculed that explanation today.
“If you believe Jona, he is shorting Norman Seabrook $40,000 to $90,000 … but, ‘you know how I can make him happy? I can buy him a man-purse!” the attorney exclaimed.
“I know I'm shorting him $90,000,” he added, holding up the bag, “but look at that.”
One of his union’s most powerful leaders, the famously fashionable Seabrook has been re-elected several times, but Shachtman quipped that Rechnitz’s present would make rank-and-file correction officer give him the boot.
“You want to guarantee you’re not going to get a seventh term,” the attorney said, slinging the small, shiny bag on his shoulder. “Wear that to the next meeting.”
Rechnitz’s tales of influence peddling extended beyond the men on trial: under the terms of his plea deal, he admitted to attempting to corrupt high-ranking NYPD officers and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Rechnitz maxed out on $4,950 in personal donations for both him and his wife.
He also bundled $100,000 in total to de Blasio’s campaign, and contributed a similar amount to state Democrats at the mayor’s urging.
Stung but legally unscathed by the testimony, the mayor is expected to coast into his second term as closing arguments wrap up Tuesday. A Quinnipiac poll last month found that de Blasio is supported by 61 percent of people likely to go to vote in today’s election.
Schechtman depicted his client Seabrook as one of many New York City leaders hoodwinked by the government’s key witness.
“Many people in this city fell for it,” he said. “People in politics.”