Ex-jail union boss’s lawyer: Star witness was unbelievable
NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors in the trial of New York City’s ex-jail guard union boss will begin deliberations Wednesday after a full day of closing arguments Tuesday left them with widely varying takes on a man who was among the city’s powerbrokers for over two decades.
Norman Seabrook, 57, was vilified and praised as prosecutors and defense lawyers took turns casting their opinions about evidence that emerged over the last two weeks. Seabrook, facing conspiracy and fraud charges, did not testify.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kan Nawaday said Seabrook was greedy and eager to get between $100,000 and $150,000 in kickbacks annually by steering millions of dollars from the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association to a hedge fund. The association is the nation’s largest municipal jail guard union.
He said the bribes began with a $60,000 payout delivered by the government’s star witness, Jona Rechnitz, in a black $1,000 Ferragamo bag that Nawaday held up for jurors to see.
Defense attorney Paul Shechtman tried to mock the prosecutor’s presentation when he took his turn before the jury box, holding up the bag as well but with different intent.
“If you believe this story, he is shorting Norman Seabrook $40,000, maybe shorting him $90,000,” Shechtman said of Rechnitz.
Then he suggested that Rechnitz thought to himself: “You know what, I know what will make him happy. I can give him a man purse!”
The quip set off laugher around the courtroom, including at the prosecutor’s table. And there was more laugher when Shechtman followed it with: “I know I am shorting him $90,000. But look at that!”
Judge Andrew L. Carter Jr. gave a gentle rebuke to spectators to contain their emotions.
Shechtman began his presentation by praising his client’s union work, saying he’d vastly improved the standing of city guards from the mid-1990s until his arrest last year, increasing their salaries and benefits package substantially.
And he resumed his attacks on the credibility of Rechnitz, saying he had such a bad character that he was sure no one on the jury knew anyone with such bad intentions.
Nawaday struck back, saying defense attacks against Rechnitz was “noise” designed to distract them. He urged them to “focus only on the facts” to convict Seabrook and his co-defendant, Murray Huberfeld, a hedge fund financier who authorities say helped arrange the bribe. Huberfeld’s lawyer urged jurors to acquit his client.