New York City corruption informant Jona Rechnitz made his second public appearance as a federal witness Tuesday at the bribery retrial of former city jail-union boss Norman Seabrook, reprising testimony about how he spread money around to get favors at City Hall and the NYPD.
Rechnitz, the son of a wealthy Los Angeles developer, told Manhattan federal court jurors that his goal was to become a real estate honcho who owned “many trophy buildings” and his web of graft was an effort to acquire powerful friends who could help him.
“It developed over time,” he said. “I kept giving them gifts, I kept asking for things, and it was working.”
Seabrook, 58, once the powerful head of the 9,000-member Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, is accused of taking a $60,000 bribe to invest $20 million in union pension money in the Platinum Partners hedge fund, with Rechnitz acting as a conduit to deliver the cash.
Rechnitz, whose claims were at the center of a wide 2016 corruption probe that touched Mayor Bill de Blasio and top police officials, testified at Seabrook’s first trial last fall that he delivered the cash in a Ferragamo bag in 2014 just before Christmas. But that trial ended with a hung jury.
Seabrook was joined in court Tuesday by a celebrity supporter, former New Jersey Nets basketball star Jayson Williams, who said their friendship went back a decade but it didn’t do him any good when he did eight months in jail in 2011 for drunken driving.
“Didn’t help me when I was in Rikers,” Williams joked to reporters. “Could have used some!”
In just 40 minutes of testimony Tuesday that is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning, Rechnitz didn’t break any new ground as he began detailing what he described as three “buckets” of corruption that he pleaded guilty to as part of his deal to cooperate with prosecutors.
“I admitted to bribing police officials,” he testified. “I admitted to bribing my way around City Hall. I admitted to bribing Norman.”
Rechnitz said he saw Platinum founder Murray Huberfeld, a family friend, and Seabrook as both “important” and “powerful” men and thought it was in his self-interest to help arrange the alleged payoff. “It would make them each kind of owe me one,” he testified.
At the NYPD, Rechnitz said, he dealt with more than a dozen cops, but focused on those with “more ability to get things done.” Those included former chief of department Philip Banks, who he treated to vacations in Israel and the Dominican Republic among other perks.
He said Banks even gave him $250,000 to “invest,” which Rechnitz held and then returned with a $12,500 profit. “He felt it was in safe hands, that I would give it back with profits,” Rechnitz testified. “I wanted to become close to him, I wanted him to rely on me.”
Rechnitz is expected to describe his efforts to buy access at City Hall when the trial resumes on Wednesday. Platinum is bankrupt and lost $19 million of the $20 million investment. Huberfeld has pleaded guilty. Banks has not been charged with wrongdoing.