Thursday, June 9, 2016
The longtime head of the city correction officers union steered $20 million in funds into a risky hedge fund in exchange for a $60,000 cash kickback that was stuffed into a brand-new Salvatore Ferragamo bag, the feds charged on Wednesday.
Norman Seabrook — who drunkenly declared it was time he “got paid” for investing his union’s funds — and Platinum Partners founder Murray Huberfeld were charged with conspiracy and honest-services fraud for what Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara called “a very simple and straightforward quid pro quo.”
Both men face a maximum 40 years if convicted on both counts.
The feds say the scam was cooked up in late 2013 during a trip to the Dominican Republic paid for by a cooperating witness — identified by sources as real estate investor and Mayor Bill de Blasio donor Jona Rechnitz.
During a night of heavy drinking, Seabrook — who’s run the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association for the past 21 years — complained to Rechnitz that he worked hard to invest his union’s money.
He said it was time that “Norman Seabrook got paid,” according to the court papers.
Rechnitz then allegedly worked out an arrangement in which Seabrook would hand over a huge chunk of COBA’s cash funds to Platinum for 10 percent of its profit share, or an estimated $100,000 to $150,000 a year.
Seabrook and Huberfeld later sealed the deal and COBA made an initial investment of $10 million worth of pension funds in March 2014 — the same month that Rechnitz paid for Seabrook to join him on a trip to Israel, according to the feds.
Also on that trip was then-NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks — who had introduced Seabrook to Rechnitz — and Rechnitz pal Jeremy Reichberg, who sources said is identified in court papers as an uncharged co-conspirator in the case.
Banks’ lawyer, Ben Brafman, said his client “has no knowledge about the conduct alleged in today’s complaint and had absolutely no involvement whatsoever in the criminal conduct charged.”
Reichberg’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Seabrook allegedly invested a total of $15 million worth of COBA’s pension money with Platinum, and another $5 million in operating funds — which left the union with just over $3 million in cash on hand.
Near the end of 2014, Seabrook demanded his first kickback, court papers say.
Rechnitz agreed to front the money, which the feds say he put into an $820 Ferragamo bag — described by one source as a black “murse,” or men’s purse. Ferragamo is described in court papers as “Seabrook’s favorite luxury goods store.”
FBI agents seized the bag, along with 10 pairs of Ferragamo shoes, from Seabrook’s Bronx home following his arrest there early Wednesday, Bharara said.
In order to reimburse Rechnitz for the payoff, the feds say Huberfeld had him create a phony receipt claiming that Platinum purchased some of Rechnitz’s Knicks season tickets.
A $60,000 invoice allegedly drafted by Rechnitz’s assistant on Dec. 11, 2014, said the money paid for two seats to each of “8 Knicks games @7500 per game.”
“At the time of this supposed payment of $7,500 per game, the New York Knicks’ record was 4-20,” a footnote in the criminal complaint says.
Despite his taste for fine accessories, Seabrook appeared in court wearing leather flip-flops, baggy jeans and a button-down shirt, after refusing to don a suit that a female supporter brought for him.
Manhattan federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Fox agreed to release him without bail.
But the feds appealed the ruling to federal Judge Jesse Furman, who set bond at $250,000.
Seabrook left the courthouse with a big grin on his face and said, “I feel like a million dollars. One million.”
Upon returning to his home — which neighbors said was recently renovated — he fired up a cigar and took a stroll down the block before retreating to his fenced-in back yard.
Additional reporting by Kevin Sheehan, Frank Rosario and Vinita Singla