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Seabrook bribery case ends in mistrial

A mistrial was declared in Norman Seabrook's bribery

A mistrial was declared in Norman Seabrook's bribery case on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A Manhattan federal jury on Thursday was released after it was unable to break a deadlock on bribery charges against former New York City jail-union boss Norman Seabrook, leaving doubts about the credibility of star corruption informant Jona Rechnitz in the wake of the mistrial.

Federal prosecutors immediately pledged to re-try Seabrook, 57, on charges he took a $60,000 bribe to invest $20 million in union pension money with Platinum Partners, a hedge fund founded by co-defendant Murray Huberfeld, who would also be retried for allegedly paying the bribe.

“Although justice has been delayed, we expect it ultimately will prevail,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in a statement.

But one juror called Jona Rechnitz, the real estate wheeler dealer at the center of NYPD and City Hall corruption probes last year who claimed he delivered the bribe in a Ferragamo bag, a “straight up liar,” and Seabrook’s lawyer suggested he would continue to be a problem.

“If you could spend your life as a lawyer cross-examining Jona Rechnitz, it’d be a very happy life,” said defense lawyer Paul Shechtman.

For prosecutors, the outcome was the latest of several disappointments in the political corruption crusade started by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, following appellate reversals of convictions of former state Assembly and Senate leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos. The government plans to retry those cases as well.

Rechnitz, 33, who is slated to be the star witness again at an upcoming corruption trial of two police officials, offered detailed descriptions of how he got access to City Hall by raising money for Mayor Bill de Blasio in addition to testifying about being the bagman who delivered a bribe to Seabrook in December, 2014.

But during an intense cross-examination he admitted to links to two Ponzi schemes, engaging in racially offensive behavior, and lying repeatedly to associates in a bid to become a “macher” in the city. The performance left the jury unimpressed.

“He couldn’t remember half the things he said the week before,” said Bronx chef Joseph Roldan, the juror who called Rechnitz a “straight up liar.”

Most jurors brushed off questions leaving court, but Roldan said the panel was split differently on two counts against Seabrook and Huberfeld — 10-2 toward conviction on a conspiracy to engage in bribery, but 11-1 for acquittal on the charge that the bribe was paid to Seabrook.

Prosecutors tried to corroborate Rechnitz’s testimony at trial with evidence that when Seabrook was arrested 18 months later, agents found the Ferragamo bag and $28,000 in cash at his home. The defense said the bag was a gift and the money from gambling. Roldan said the jury didn’t buy the government’s argument, citing the passage of time.

“Two years later they’re coming up with this?” he said. “That doesn’t make sense. The man was wealthy himself. . . . Seabrook having a bag? That doesn’t make sense. That’s not enough evidence.”

Jurors deliberated over six days. They first reported an impasse on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter told them to keep talking, but by Thursday their note said they were still stuck and “see no prospect of making further progress.” Prosecutors didn’t oppose a defense mistrial motion.

Seabrook afterwards thanked God and said he would “weather the storm” of a retrial.

“They have unlimited resources so they’re going to continue to come after me,” he said. “But I believe that the man upstairs is going to step in and he’s going to put a stop to it because at the end of the day you can’t continuously try to circumvent the truth, and I’m innocent.”

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