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Prosecutor uses court trick from O.J. case during Norman Seabrook corruption trial

Norman Seabrook, left, arrives at a federal courthouse

Norman Seabrook, left, arrives at a federal courthouse in Manhattan during his bribery retrial on Monday.  Credit: Charles Eckert

A prosecutor drew on a trick from the O.J. Simpson trial during closing arguments in Manhattan federal court, showing jurors how a $60,000 bribe allegedly paid to former jail-union boss Norman Seabrook in a fancy bag could have fit into the Ferragamo “man-purse” found at his home.

Mimicking the courtroom scene when defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran struggled to put a glove on Simpson’s hand and said, “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit,” prosecutor Martin Bell tucked over $20,000 in cash seized at Seabrook’s house into the leather bag found nearby.

"There is still an ocean of room in that bag,” Bell said. “There’s enough to put three times what I just put in. … You could put $200,000 in that bag."

Seabrook, 58, is accused of receiving $60,000 in cash from government informant Jona Rechnitz, who said he delivered it in 2014 in a Ferragamo bag on behalf of the Platinum Partners hedge fund in return for Seabrook investing $20 million in pension money from the city guards union.

Prosecutors say the same bag was found when Seabrook was arrested, along with cash left over. But during the trial, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein had questioned Rechnitz on whether the bag — which he called a “murse” was big enough to hold the stacks of cash he said he paid.

“There was no problem getting it in,” Rechnitz responded. But Hellerstein at the time prohibited prosecutors from putting on a demonstration.

Last year, a jury deadlocked on bribery and conspiracy charges against Platinum founder Murray Huberfeld and Seabrook, once one of the city’s most powerful labor leaders as head of the 9,000-member Correction Officers Benevolent Association. Huberfeld pleaded guilty later.

The retrial, in its third week, again featured testimony from Rechnitz, a cooperating witness who was at the center of NYPD and City Hall corruption probes in 2016, but unlike in the first trial the judge let prosecutors present evidence that $19 million of the $20 million investment was lost.

“The Correction Officers Benevolent Association is out $19 million,” Bell told jurors in his summation. “The risks . . . were real. This case isn’t about what happened, but his betrayal made that outcome possible.”

Seabrook’s defense focused largely on attacking Rechnitz, a wheeler-dealer real estate investor who admitted using graft to get favors from police and politicians, raising funds for two different Ponzi schemers, and lying to impress people and get perks ranging from gun permits and parking placards to health insurance.

Defense lawyer Paul Shechtman offered jurors an alternative theory — that Rechnitz ingratiated himself with Seabrook to get him to invest, gave Seabrook cigars in the Ferragamo bag as a Hannukah gift, and then sought leniency for other crimes by framing him and pretending a $60,000 fee Rechnitz got from Platinum for persuading Seabrook to invest was a bribe.

“Only Jona says there’s money in the bag, and Jona is a pathological liar,” he said in his closing argument. “Jona makes up elaborate lies whenever it serves his purpose.”

Shechtman insisted that Seabrook believed the Platinum investment was a sound one, and said it would be unfair to convict Seabrook of a crime based on the fact it soured later when Platinum went bankrupt.

“This isn’t about that,” he said. “This is about whether Mr. Seabrook was bribed in 2014.”

Deliberations are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning after Hellerstein gives legal instructions to the jury.

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