Jury selected in retrial of ex-jail guard union boss
NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors will hear opening statements Thursday in the bribery retrial of New York City’s ex-jail guard union boss, a case built largely on the claims of a cooperating witness who says he used money to win favors from city officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The second trial for Norman Seabrook revives claims by Jona Rechnitz, a real estate developer who has moved to Los Angeles, that he used money to buy himself power.
At a trial last year, Rechnitz testified that he helped arrange $60,000 in payments to Seabrook so the longtime head of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association would steer $20 million of union funds to a hedge fund.
Rechnitz said that Seabrook was promised from $100,000 to $150,000 annually to invest union funds.
He also said that he contributed $100,000 to the 2013 New York City mayoral campaign of de Blasio, a Democrat, who won the election.
Richnitz testified in a cooperation deal after pleading guilty to conspiracy, saying he arranged a bribe for Seabrook and gave gifts to public officials, including de Blasio, in a bid to gain favors.
A spokesman for de Blasio has said Rechnitz’s contributions had no effect on government decisions.
The mayor’s aides and lawyers for Seabrook, 58, have labeled Rechnitz a liar.
A jury deadlocked last year in Seabrook’s first trial.
Seabrook was arrested in 2016 on conspiracy and fraud charges.
Prosecutors say Seabrook accepted his bribes in a $1,000 Ferragamo handbag.
His lawyers say he never took bribes and most of his cash resulted from gambling winnings.
The retrial will have a new wrinkle after U.S. District judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled that the government can show jurors evidence that the correction officers’ union lost $19 million of its $20 million investment when the hedge fund went bankrupt.
Earning up to $300,000 annually, Seabrook led the nation’s largest municipal jail guard union for over two decades. In his powerful post, he was beloved by guards, feared by jail administrators and was approached delicately by city politicians.
Seabrook was believed to be so influential that some thought he had more influence over the city’s Rikers Island jail complex than any other person, even the head of the city’s Department of Corrections. Rikers is part of the city’s 10,000-inmate jail system.
At the first trial, defense attorney Paul Shechtman praised his client’s union work, saying he’d vastly improved the standing of city guards from the mid-1990s until his arrest, increasing their salaries and benefits package substantially.