New York’s former corrections officers union president will stand trial on federal corruption charges, and it’s not even the first time he’s faced a corruption trial in the last 12 months. For Norman Seabrook is due back in court following a mistrial last November, and all eyes will be on a single witness who could be the deciding factor in this case. The defense will attack the credibility of Jona S. Rechnitz, who federal prosecutors hope to use to make most of their case against Seabrook, The New York Times reports.
Rechnitz came into the picture when he was caught up in a bribery scheme, leading him to testify against Seabrook in last November’s trial. One juror in the first trial described the real estate tycoon who pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge as a “straight-up liar.” The credibility question gives the defense an opening to attack Rechnitz directly instead of focusing on the facts. They will try to take advantage of a common conundrum that prosecutors can face when a cooperating witness who has plead guilty to charges gives testimony in another case. The defense can make the case that the witness is a liar based on his or her criminal conviction, the witness has motives to lie such as cutting a good plea deal, and so on. Margaret Lynaugh of the defense knows best just how crucial this witness will be, saying in her opening statement that the case should be called “Jona Rechnitz versus Norman Seabrook.”
“First, Jona Rechnitz is a pathological liar,” Lynaugh said. “And second, Jona Rechnitz always takes care of Jona Rechnitz.” The once all-powerful Seabrook is charged with directing $20 million of union money into a risky hedge fund in 2014 in return for promised kickbacks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to The New York Times.
Prosecutors argue he received $60,000 in cash in a bag. “This is a case about corruption — corruption involving lies, bribes and betrayal,” prosecutor Lara Pomerantz said while addressing the jury. She describes him as “a union leader who is supposed to serve the common good but became blinded by greed,” continuing by saying Seabrook gave away all of his power “once he saw an opportunity to get paid.”
Rechnitz’s testimony was a major point of intrigue during his six days on the stand in the first trial because his accounts of the people he spent time with brought up some big names, including Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Rechnitz testified that him and a friend helped raise thousands of dollars for de Blasio’s first mayoral campaign, even getting the eventual mayor’s personal contact information. He even told Rechnitz that he could “call if there’s anything I need, always be in touch.”
By: Kathleen Falby