A federal jury in Manhattan on Wednesday convicted former New York City jail-union leader Norman Seabrook of taking a $60,000 payoff to invest $20 million in pension money with Platinum Partners, a now-defunct hedge fund.
Seabrook, 58, was found guilty of conspiracy and bribery-related fraud on the second day of jury deliberations after a two-week-long retrial that featured testimony from star federal corruption informant Jona Rechnitz. A jury deadlocked last year on the same charges.
During a day of complicated courtroom wrangling, the jury first announced its bribery verdict and said it was deadlocked on conspiracy. While the judge and lawyers met in a side room to discuss continuing deliberations, Seabrook sat awkwardly feet away staring at the jurors.
He then told his wife and family members to “stop crying,” turned to a reporter with a grin and declared, “I’m still smiling.” Later, outside court, he shook hands with U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman and pledged an appeal. “I will be vindicated because God is still on his throne,” he said.
Berman, in a statement, linked Seabrook’s case to four other public corruption convictions this year — of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former State Senate leader Dean Skelos, ex-SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros and Joe Percoco, once a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“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,” he said.
The former head of the 9,000-member Correction Officers Benevolent Association, Seabrook was once one of the city's most influential labor leaders, a man who favored nice cigars and fancy suits, had a powerful voice in city politics and was said to harbor aspirations of some day running for mayor.
Seabrook claimed he was framed by Rechnitz, a rich real estate operator at the center of federal corruption probes of City Hall and the NYPD in 2016 after becoming an informant, pleading guilty to corruption-related crimes and telling prosecutors he gave money and perks to top cops and politicians in return for favors and access.
But the jury of 10 women and two men apparently credited Rechnitz’s testimony that he befriended Seabrook, took him on vacations to Israel and the Dominican Republic, and in 2014 delivered a $60,000 cash bribe in a Ferragamo bag as a go-between for Platinum founder Murray Huberfeld after Seabrook said in a drunken conversation, “It’s time for Norman to get paid.”
Attacks on Rechnitz’s credibility — he raised money for two Ponzi schemers and admitted lying dozens of times to impress people, finagle official perks and make money — contributed to the hung jury at Seabrook’s first trial in November. At the retrial, the cross was shorter and he appeared better prepared, lawyers said.
Jurors, who eventually found Seabrook guilty of conspiracy after about an hour of additional deliberation Wednesday afternoon, mostly declined to comment leaving court, and some were crying.
Richard Wade, one who spoke, called it a “tough case” and said he didn’t find Rechnitz particularly trustworthy. “But the look in his eyes said he was broken,” Wade said. “So I don’t think he was lying any more.”
Seabrook, however, complained after the verdict that he had been the victim of a double standard because prosecutors did not charge Mayor Bill de Blasio based on Rechnitz’s claims that he got access to City Hall in return for donations, but relied on Rechnitz to win Wednesday’s convictions.
“Now, all of a sudden his story is true,” he told reporters.
Two rulings by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein may figure in any appeal. The judge allowed prosecutors at the retrial to prove that the union eventually lost $19 million of the $20 million invested, dismissing defense arguments that the outcome didn’t prove Seabrook was bribed.
And during deliberations, he at first refused to take a partial verdict from the jury on one count, and then gave jurors additional legal instructions requested by prosecutors about the bribery charge before reversing himself and agreeing to accept a verdict on only that count.
“I think we have strong grounds for appeal,” Seabrook lawyer Paul Shechtman said.
Seabrook’s sentencing was scheduled for Nov. 30. Huberfeld pleaded guilty after the first trial. Platinum is in bankruptcy.