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Jury Deadlocked in Corruption Trial of Former Jail Officers’ Union Chief Jury Is Deadlocked in Corruption Trial of Ex-Jail Officers’ Union Chief
(about 1 hour later)
Jurors in the trial of Norman Seabrook, the former head of the city’s correction officers’ union, told a judge they were deadlocked on Tuesday, a possible sign of the deeply divisive nature of the government’s key witness, a former donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Jurors in the trial of Norman Seabrook, the former head of the city’s correction officers’ union, told a judge on Tuesday that they were deadlocked, a possible sign of the polarizing nature of the government’s key witness.
The jury’s note to the judge illuminated the extent to which the witness, Jona Rechnitz, had complicated and perhaps derailed what prosecutors had sought to portray as a straightforward and even clichéd bribery case, complete with a cash payoff inside a car. Mr. Rechnitz had testified to paying Mr. Seabrook $60,000 in cash stuffed inside a designer bag as payment for Mr. Seabrook directing $20 million of union funds into a high-risk investment fund run by Mr. Rechnitz’s friend, Murray Huberfeld, who is also on trial. The jury’s note to Judge Andrew L. Carter Jr. came just before noon on the fourth day of deliberations in the trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
The note provoked an immediate reaction in the courtroom, where Mr. Seabrook, standing behind his chair, pointed to the ceiling, his eyes fixed upward. “Glory, glory,” he said.
“That’s why there’s a deadlock,” he said. “Because I didn’t do nothing wrong.”
After conferring with the lawyers for the government and the defense, Judge Carter directed the jury to resume deliberations, the customary response after a jury first reports that it is deadlocked.
“I urge you to consider one another’s views with an open mind,” the judge told the jurors. He said if that discussion led to a change of heart, “you shouldn’t hesitate in yielding your original point of view.” But, he said, “You’re not to give up a point of view, however, that you conscientiously believe in simply because you’re outnumbered or outweighed.”
As the jury filed back out of the courtroom to continue deliberating, at least one juror sighed loudly, “Oh boy, oh boy.”
What in particular has divided the jury is unknown, but the panel spent several days listening to the testimony of the government’s key witness, Jona Rechnitz, a former donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Mr. Rechnitz, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal prosecutors, testified to paying Mr. Seabrook $60,000 in cash stuffed inside a designer bag as payment for Mr. Seabrook directing $20 million of union funds into a high-risk investment fund run by Mr. Rechnitz’s friend, Murray Huberfeld, who is also on trial.
Prosecutors had cast Mr. Rechnitz’s testimony as a valuable first-person account of Mr. Seabrook’s and Mr. Huberfeld’s kickback scheme, but defense lawyers had assailed Mr. Rechnitz’s credibility, telling jurors that he was a pathological liar and that he continued to lie on the witness stand.Prosecutors had cast Mr. Rechnitz’s testimony as a valuable first-person account of Mr. Seabrook’s and Mr. Huberfeld’s kickback scheme, but defense lawyers had assailed Mr. Rechnitz’s credibility, telling jurors that he was a pathological liar and that he continued to lie on the witness stand.
Mr. Rechnitz, who was cooperating with the government after pleading guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge, gave the defense lawyers plenty of fodder for their accusations. He admitted telling a string of lies before signing his cooperation agreement, including to law enforcement, family members and potential investors in his various business ventures. Mr. Rechnitz gave the defense lawyers plenty of fodder for their accusations. He admitted telling a string of lies before signing his cooperation agreement, including to law enforcement, family members and potential investors in his various business ventures.
And he made no secret of his efforts to buy influence with key city policymakers — not only Mr. Seabrook, who for more than two decades was one of the city’s most powerful labor leaders, but also Mr. de Blasio, to whom Mr. Rechnitz was a generous campaign contributor, and Philip Banks III, once the top chief of the New York Police Department. And he made no secret of his efforts to buy influence with key city policymakers — not only Mr. Seabrook, who was one of the city’s most powerful labor leaders for more than two decades, but also Mr. de Blasio, to whom Mr. Rechnitz was a generous campaign contributor, and Philip Banks III, once the top chief of the New York Police Department.
That history, coupled with Mr. Rechnitz’s confrontational and surly demeanor on the witness stand, may be the reason for the jury’s lack of consensus, despite Mr. Rechnitz’s narrative of a clear, obvious payoff between himself and Mr. Seabrook on a cold night in December 2014. Some jurors had appeared visibly perturbed by Mr. Rechnitz when he was testifying; during his cross-examination by defense lawyers, some jurors had shifted in their seats or frowned as he spoke of pay-to-play schemes. Some jurors had appeared visibly perturbed by Mr. Rechnitz when he was testifying; during his cross-examination by defense lawyers, some jurors had shifted in their seats or frowned as he spoke of pay-to-play schemes.