Once Mighty Boss of Rikers’ Officer Union Convicted of Corruption

By Larry Neumeister

Associated Press

A former union boss who was once regarded as the king of New York City’s jails may be headed to federal prison after a jury convicted him of corruption charges Wednesday.

The Manhattan jury returned its verdict against Norman Seabrook months after another jury deadlocked on the charges against the former head of the union representing guards at Rikers Island.

It agreed with prosecutors that Seabrook accepted $60,000 in cash bribes in 2014 to funnel $20 million in union funds to a hedge fund. All but $1 million was lost when the fund failed.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein set sentencing for Nov. 30, when the 58-year-old Seabrook may learn his penalty on two charges that each could mean 20 years in prison.

 Norman Seabrook, center, president of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, was convicted of corruption in federal court Wednesday. AP File Photo by Mary Altaffer

Norman Seabrook, center, president of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, was convicted of corruption in federal court Wednesday. AP File Photo by Mary Altaffer

The verdict came in two parts, with the jury first saying it was deadlocked on a conspiracy count. After the jury forewoman announced Seabrook was guilty of honest services wire fraud, the judge went to the robing room with lawyers and left jurors sitting in the courtroom as Seabrook and his family and friends reacted to the outcome.

Seabrook told family and friends, some of whom stared at the jury, to stop crying.

“I’m still smiling,” he said.

The judge told jurors to continue their work and they reached a guilty verdict on the conspiracy charge an hour later.

Outside the courtroom, Seabrook walked across the hall and shook the hand of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.

“I’m never going to change who I am, for nobody,” Seabrook told a reporter.

Outside, he said he was disappointed, “you know, especially knowing that I did nothing wrong.”

“Three other people signed an agreement to make an investment in a company. Had I known the company was going to go bad, I certainly wouldn’t have made the investment,” he said.

His attorney, Paul Shechtman, promised to appeal.

“Norman has fought the charges for two years and I don’t expect him to stop now,” the lawyer said.

Berman told a news conference outside federal court that the verdict marked the fifth major public corruption conviction for his office in the last five months. Others convicted have included a former speaker of the New York Assembly, the former majority leader of the New York Senate, an ex-close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a key executive in charge of an upstate redevelopment project known as the Buffalo Billion.

Berman promised to keep public corruption a top priority of his office, which is currently conducting a fraud probe of President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

For two decades, Seabrook was head of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and was a powerful figure in political circles. Some wardens said his control over the jails rivaled their own.

Martin F. Horn, who served as commissioner of the New York City Correction Department from 2003 to 2009, told The New York Times for a 2014 article: “I came to think that my wardens believed Norman was more important to their career than I was.”

The Seabrook case emerged as problems at Rikers Island, which houses about 7,100 of the city’s inmate population of 9,000, became the focus in 2014 of stories by The Associated Press and other news outlets.

A string of brutality cases exposed poor supervision, questionable medical care and corruption, prompting calls for Rikers’ closure.

Seabrook was convicted partly on the testimony of the man who persuaded him to invest in a hedge fund run by Platinum Partners. That witness, Jona Rechnitz, who was also a lavish political donor to Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, told jurors he talked Seabrook into the investment on a free trip to the Dominican Republic, then later handed off $60,000 in a designer bag.

Shechtman told jurors Rechnitz was a world-class liar.

“If they had a Nobel Prize in manipulation, Jona Rechnitz would be a recipient,” Shechtman said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell also insisted there were “multiple independent sources,” including phone and bank records, to corroborate Rechnitz’s story.