Union Boss Seabrook Found Guilty of Fraud, Conspiracy

MANHATTAN (CN) – About 45 minutes apart, a federal jury handed two guilty verdicts Wednesday to dapper union boss Norman Seabrook on fraud and conspiracy charges.

Taking a break from proceedings in his bribery trial, Norman Seabrook walks with a cigar outside the Manhattan federal courthouse on Aug. 13, 2018. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein permitted the jury to announce a partial verdict on the honest services fraud count at 3:30 this afternoon after saying Tuesday that it was too early too throw in the towel.

“You haven’t deliberated enough,” Seabrook said Tuesday. “You need to keep going. I will not accept a partial verdict.”

The jury of nine women and three men did not need much more time, returning just after 4 p.m. with a guilty verdict on the conspiracy count as well.

During a 15-minute stretch between the two verdicts, jurors awkwardly avoided eye contact with the man whom they convicted while attorneys for Seabrook and the government conferred privately in chambers with Hellerstein.

Seabrook, 58, was indicted in 2016 but before that spent 21 years as president of the powerful Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association. The union lost $20 million from their retirement savings after Seabrook invested the money with the risky hedge fund Platinum Partners,  having taken a $60,000 bribe to do so, prosecutors showed.

In the first go-around of this case, Seabrook went on trial last year with Platinum Partners president Murray Huberfeld. Those proceedings ended in a mistrial, however, after jurors failed to reach a verdict on any of the charges. Before Seabrook’s retrial, which kicked off last week in Manhattan, Huberfeld pleaded guilty in May.

Over the course of the trial, prosecutors worked to show how Seabrook was courted by Huberfeld, Platinum Partners power broker Jona Rechnitz and real estate developer Jeremy Reichberg, who also worked as a community liaison for the NYPD, through trips to Israel and the Dominican Republic.

During one of the rum and cigar-fueled vacations in 2013, prosecutors alleged, Seabrook opened himself to Rechtniz’s pitch to bring in some extra money to the union boss.

Seabrook evaluated his two decades with COBA and declared that “it’s time Norman Seabrook got paid,” acccording to Rechnitz’s testimony.

Seabrook’s defense focused largely on attacking the character of this witness, a disgraced real estate investor who admitted to pursuing favors and perks from a dozen police officers and politicians, including gun permits, parking placards and V.I.P. treatment at Brooklyn’s Barclays arena.

Seabrook’s defense did not deny that he accepted the $800 Ferragamo satchel that surveillance cameras caught Rechnitz carrying over to him before they dined at a Midtown Manhattan steakhouse on Dec. 11, 2014. But attorney Paul Shechtman told jurors that the bag’s true contents were cigars for Hannukah.

“Only Jona says there was money in the bag and Jona is a pathological liar,” said Shechtman, reiterating the description of Rechnitz that jurors heard in opening arguments from fellow Bracewell attorney Maggie Lynaugh.

Following Wednesday’s verdict, U.S. Geoffrey Berman touted Seabrook’s as “the fifth major public corruption conviction by our office in as many months.”

“As long as there are public servants who put self-interest above the people they are sworn to serve, public corruption will remain a top priority of this office,” Berman added.

Previously the Southern District of New York saw the convictions of Joseph Percoco, former right-hand man to Governor Andrew Cuomo; Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York state Assembly; Dean Skelos, the former majority leader of the New York Senate; and Alain Kaloyeros, a key executive in an economic-development initiative of Cuomo’s called the Buffalo Billion.

Seabrook faces sentencing on Nov. 30, more than two months after Huberfeld is sentenced on Sept. 14, 2018. Rechnitz’s sentence also has not yet been determined.

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