‘Yada, Yada,’ Seabrook Is Guilty, Prosecutor Quips

MANHATTAN (CN) – Invoking iconic “Seinfeld” flippancy to close out a New York City corruption trial, a federal prosecutor urged jurors Monday not to “yada, yada” the evidence against Norman Seabrook.

Taking a break from proceedings in his bribery trial, Norman Seabrook walks with a cigar outside the Manhattan federal courthouse on Aug. 9, 2018. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell made the pitch as part of an 80-minute push to convict Seabrook of taking bribes while at the helm of the powerful Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.

After 21 years with Seabrook at its helm, the union lost a $20 million investment that Seabrook had steered to the risky hedge fund Platinum Partners. Prosecutors say 58-year-old Seabrook did so because he got a $60,000 cash bribe from the hedge fund’s principal, delivered in person by broker Jona Rechnitz.

In many ways, Seabrook’s trial has been an echo of the proceedings last year that ended in a hung jury. Defense attorney Paul Shechtman kept that reprise going today by emphasizing that there is no surveillance footage of money changing hands.

Seabrook admits accepting the $800 Ferragamo satchel that Rechnitz was recorded carrying over to him in Midtown Manhattan steakhouse on Dec. 11, 2014, but Schechtman 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 last week from fellow Bracewell attorney Maggie Lynaugh.

Shechtman mentioned Seabrook’s fondness for cigars several times during his closing, emphasizing that his client’s status as a major player in the city was exemplified by in part by his tradition of smoking cigars with Philip Banks, the former chief of department at the NYPD.

No one carrying a bag with $60,000 in cash would swing it around Rockefeller Plaza in the manner that surveillance cameras captured Rechnitz doing four years ago, Shectman insisted.

Prosecutor Bell meanwhile worked to dispel any misconceptions about how much money could fit in the satchel, purchased by Rechnitz and found at Seabrook’s house in the Bronx.

Opening the mouth of the oft-mentioned “man purse,” Bell shoved in three bank envelopes containing $21,000. He then remarked to the jury that “an ocean of space remained” for that up to 10 times as much cash.

Prosecutors say a $60,000 invoice that Rechnitz submitted to his employer represents proof that the bribe was paid. Though the invoice lists the payment as covering courtside tickets to eight New York Knicks basketball games, Bell noted that these tickets were going for $6,800 a pair, not the $7,500 that Rechnitz represented.

“No one was paying above cost to see the New York Knicks in 2014,” Bell said, referencing what was commonly referred to as the worst season in Knicks history, having been the first time they lost more than 60 games.

Schechtman tried to spin the numbers for the jury as well, however, doing his best Jonnie Cochran impression.

“If the numbers don’t tie, Jona’s story is a lie,” Shechtman said.

Portraying Rechntiz as a power-hungry city player who took Seabrook for a ride, Schechtman said Seabrook aspired to run for New York City mayor and that he saw Rechnitz as obvious fundraiser.

“If they awarded a Nobel Prize in manipulation, Jona would be a recipient,” said Shectman.

On some points of the government’s case, however, the defense offered no contest.

Regarding a trip Seabrook took to Israel — where the government has receipts showing the bill was covered by Platinum Partners, but Seabrook signed a sworn affidavit stating that he had paid for his own trip — Schechtman got to the point.

“I’ll be brief, Norman Seabrook lied in the affidavit,” the attorney said.

Prosecutor Bell focused on this evidence as well, showing the jury vacation photos of Seabrook in an Israeli game shop where he apparently bought a high-end backgammon set to show his gratitude to the high rollers who had bankrolled the trip.

Bell also reminded the jury of the due-diligence reports from the union Board of Trustees that identified Platinum Partners as a higher-risk investment than more traditional investments and even predicted the risk of losing their entire investment.

“Jona Rechnitz didn’t hide those due diligence letters,” Bell said. “Jona Rechnitz didn’t stash that Ferragamo bag.”

At every stage, the prosecutor added, Seabrook’s lies and deception “stink to high heaven.”

Judge Alvin Hellerstein said the jury will begin deliberation Tuesday morning.

Seabrook held hands with a half-dozen family members in a prayer circle during the lunch break between the prosecution and defense’s closing arguments. The demonstration occurred just outside the eighth-floor terrace where Seabrook regularly smoked cigars during the trial.

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