Former New York City jail-union boss Norman Seabrook was sentenced Friday to 58 months in prison for taking a bribe to put pension money into a hedge fund that failed, but remained defiant till the end, insisting on his innocence, predicting a successful appeal and expressing no remorse.
“It’s not over till God says it’s over,” the once-powerful labor leader told reporters outside federal court in Manhattan, bristling at a question about his unrepentant position. “How can you have remorse for something that you didn’t do?”
Seabrook, 58, widely credited with winning benefits for jail guards on a par with police and firefighters, was convicted last year of taking $60,000 to invest $20 million from the Correction Officers Benevolent Association in the Platinum Partners hedge fund. The union lost $19 million.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said Seabrook rose from humble circumstances to do “major good” as a union leader but had abused the trust of members and committed a “serious offense,” attributing the behavior to “the sin of hubris.”
“The great mystery is why people who have done enormous good commit crimes,” the judge said. “…Mr. Seabrook I believe was blinded by his sense of his own importance and his desire to benefit himself after benefitting others so long.”
The sentencing occurred in a courtroom filled with supporters of Seabrook, including his wife, and former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley, but three union critics of his tenure permitted to speak as victims faulted him for abuses of power during his 20-year reign as president.
“He stole the heart and soul of his members,” said Eric Deravin, a retired deputy warden who called Seabrook a “self-serving, self-absorbed dictator” in his remarks to the judge. “Some people deserve to be kicked and kicked hard.”
Seabrook, a sharp dresser who appeared for his sentencing with a tailored slate-gray suit and matching lilac-tinted tie and pocket square, rejected the criticisms.
Citing benefits he won for union members as he told Hellerstein that he never “betrayed” his members, he insisted he was innocent and thought the Platinum Partners fund was a good investment. “I believed the investments would make money,” he said.
He also told the judge he was ready for any sentence. “I will overcome this,” he said. “My intention is to continue to fight for working men and women. My life’s journey may have been interrupted, but it’s not over until God says it’s over.”
Seabrook was accused of taking the $60,000 cash payment from Platinum founder Murray Huberfeld in a Ferragamo bag delivered by Jona Rechnitz, a real estate investor and political fixer who became a federal informant in corruption probes of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD.
Defense lawyers for Seabrook have long contended that Rechnitz, a friend of the union leader who had taken him on vacations, delivered cigars in the bag as a holiday gift — not cash — and then made up the bribe claim to get leniency from prosecutors on other crimes he committed.
The jury deadlocked in Seabrook’s and Huberfeld’s first trial. Huberfeld later pleaded guilty to lying to Platinum about $60,000 he gave Rechnitz, but not bribery. Seabrook was convicted at his retrial after Hellerstein allowed evidence that the union lost money, which the first jury hadn’t learned.
As part of the sentence, Hellerstein said Seabrook — along with, likely, Huberfeld and Rechnitz — would be responsible for $19 million in restitution to the union. But he did not set a surrender date for prison and indicated he was leaning toward granting bail pending an appeal focused on his decision to let the jury learn of the union’s loss.
Defense lawyer Paul Shechtman, who argued that the outcome prejudiced the jury but was irrelevant to proving whether Seabrook took $60,000, called it a “viable” appeal with a good chance of success.
Seabrook's 58-month sentence fell in the middle of the 51-to-63-month range called for in advisory federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors wanted 63 months. Huberfeld and Rechnitz have not yet been sentenced.