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Prosecutor: Case against union boss is about lies and bribes

August 2, 2018

FILE - In this July 22, 2016 file photo, Norman Seabrook, the former head of New York City's jail guard union, talks to reporters outside federal court after pleading not guilty in his bribery case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz told a Manhattan jury Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, at the opening of a bribery retrial of Norman Seabrook that the New York union boss was “blinded by greed” when he betrayed thousands of jail guards by squandering millions of dollars of their retirement money in a bid for riches. (AP Photo/Tom Hays, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A once-powerful New York union boss was “blinded by greed” when he betrayed thousands of jail guards by squandering millions of dollars of their retirement money in a bid for riches, a prosecutor told jurors at the opening of a trial Thursday.

“This is a case about corruption, corruption involving lies, bribes and betrayal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz told a Manhattan jury at the bribery retrial of Norman Seabrook.

She said Seabrook, for two decades head of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, accepted $60,000 in cash to steer $20 million of union funds to a risky hedge fund in 2014. She said the union lost $19 million two years later when the fund went bankrupt.

Pomerantz said Seabrook, 58, put his own interests first rather than protect the interests of thousands of correction officers.

She described him as “outspoken, high-profile and brash,” qualities that helped him gain immense power that could have benefited his union members, but instead he “became blinded with greed.”

Margaret Lynaugh, a defense lawyer, said Seabrook is innocent and was being framed by a corrupt real estate developer, Jona Rechnitz, who pleaded guilty to charges and cooperated with the government.

She said prosecutors can’t prove $60,000 was ever given to Seabrook and were relying on the word of Rechnitz.

Rechnitz’s claims at the first trial that he won city favors after contributing $100,000 to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign made for unsavory headlines about the Democrat and drew condemnation from his aides.

But there was barely a reference to de Blasio in the openings, except when Pomerantz mentioned a letter Rechnitz wrote to the mayor in his eagerness to influence city power brokers.

“At bottom, this is a one-witness case,” Lynaugh said. “First, Jona Rechnitz is a pathological liar, and second, Jona Rechnitz always takes care of Jona Rechnitz.”

She said Rechnitz lied to investors, business partners, friends and family, and to investigators before undergoing what she said the government hoped to make seem a magical transformation.

After the openings were completed, a prosecutor complained about Seabrook, saying he had uttered a curse word as Pomerantz spoke. A defense lawyer said he had not.

A jury deadlocked at Seabrook’s first trial.

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