Star witness says contributions bought access to NYC mayor
NEW YORK (AP) — The government’s star witness in the trial of the former head of the nation’s largest municipal jail guard union told jurors Thursday that he bought access to New York’s mayor with big contributions to his 2013 campaign.
Real estate developer Jona Rechnitz testified only an hour at the trial of ex-union boss Norman Seabrook but had plenty to say about his influence at City Hall.
Seabrook has pleaded not guilty to charges he accepted $60,000 in bribes to deliver a $20 million investment to a hedge fund.
Rechnitz, 34, of Los Angeles, said Bill de Blasio visited him after he promised to contribute between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Democrat’s campaign for mayor. He said he ultimately contributed $100,000.
Eric Phillips, a spokesman for the mayor, called the testimony “re-heated, re-packaged accusations that have been extensively reviewed and passed on by authorities at multiple levels.”
He added: “The administration has never and will never make government decisions based on campaign contributions.”
Rechnitz continues testimony Friday.
Rechnitz said de Blasio “spent some nice time with me” and gave him his personal cellphone number on the back of his business card, along with his private email address.
He said de Blasio also “told me to call if there’s anything I need, always be in touch and he really appreciated my support and friendship.” Rechnitz said he began speaking with de Blasio at least once a week and the mayor asked him who he thought should be appointed to certain government positions.
Richnitz has been described by defense lawyers at Seabrook’s trial as a liar who routinely tells falsehoods to enhance his career or, in this case, save himself from a long prison term.
A prosecutor elicited from Richnitz that he has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit honest services fraud, admitting he arranged a bribe for Seabrook, bought and gave gifts to public officials and police in exchange for favors and gave money to de Blasio in exchange for favors.
Richnitz said he got one of de Blasio’s aides to help get a water bill fixed and arrange for traffic tickets to be diminished so that no points would be lodged against his license.
As for the mayor, he said: “He took my calls. I mean, we were friends. ... We would chat. I’d go to events of his. He invited me to events and put me in very good-seated areas.”