Longtime jail guards’ union boss gets prison in graft case
NEW YORK (AP) — The longtime boss of a union for New York City corrections officers was sentenced to nearly five years in prison Friday for corruption convictions, a steep fall for a man credited with winning guards pay and benefits parity with police and firefighters before squandering $19 million in union funds.
U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein announced the sentence for Norman Seabrook after hearing the former head of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association defiantly defend his two decades of work leading the union.
The judge told a courtroom packed with Seabrook supporters, including former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley, that all the good Seabrook did after rising from a childhood of poverty left him wondering anew: “Why do good people do bad things?”
“Mr. Seabrook, I believe, was blinded by his own sense of importance and a desire to benefit himself after having benefited others for so long,” Hellerstein said.
As he left the courthouse, Seabrook bristled at a reporter who asked him why he expressed no remorse.
“How can you be remorseful for something you didn’t do?” he asked.
Seabrook, 58, was convicted last August at a Manhattan trial after prosecutors said he accepted $60,000 in cash bribes in 2014 to funnel $20 million in union funds to a risky hedge fund. All but $1 million was lost.
A trial witness, Jona Rechnitz, 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.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell told Hellerstein during sentencing arguments that Seabrook kept the bag he received cash in hanging on a doorknob at his home when it should have been a source of shame.
Seabrook, though, told Hellerstein the bag was filled with cigars.
He said there was no evidence he ever intended to “lose a dime” of union members’ money.
Seabrook pledged to emerge from the case “stronger and better.”
“My life’s journey may have been interrupted but it’s not over until God says it’s over,” he said.
Outside the courthouse, he said he would appeal and would win.
His lawyer, Paul Shechtman, appeared to nearly convince the judge that his client should remain free pending an appeal.
Shechtman said the question of whether Hellerstein should have allowed the jury to hear about the $19 million that was lost was a big enough point of contention that Seabrook should get to remain free until the appeals court rules.
Hellerstein said he’ll let prosecutors submit written arguments opposing the request in the next week.
Before the sentence was announced, two men and a woman who worked in the jails system spoke as victims of Seabrook’s crimes, saying Seabrook was a bully who once had so much power that he could retaliate against anyone who spoke against him.