November 16, 2017 / 8:10 PM / a year ago

Mistrial in NY corruption case against union chief, hedge fund executive

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday ordered a mistrial in the corruption case against the former head of New York City’s correction officers’ union and a co-founder of the now-defunct hedge fund firm Platinum Partners, after jurors said they were deadlocked.

FILE PHOTO: Norman Seabrook, the head of New York City's prison guard union, exits the Manhattan District court house in New York, U.S., July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

Norman Seabrook, who once led the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, and Murray Huberfeld, from Platinum, had been on trial for conspiracy and fraud.

Federal prosecutors had accused Seabrook of steering $20 million of union funds into Platinum in exchange for a bribe. Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said to expect a retrial.

“Although justice has been delayed, we expect it will ultimately prevail,” he said in a statement.

Paul Shechtman, a lawyer for Seabrook, and Henry Mazurek, a lawyer for Huberfeld, were not immediately available for comment.

The two-week trial was dominated by the testimony of former real estate developer Jona Rechnitz, who told jurors he introduced Seabrook and Huberfeld and helped further the bribery scheme.

Rechnitz, who has pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and is cooperating with prosecutors, said he handed Seabrook a bribe in the form of $60,000 in cash stuffed in a Ferragamo bag in December 2014.

Shechtman and Mazurek both assailed Rechnitz’s credibility in their cross-examinations and closing arguments, delving into his admitted history of dishonesty in dealing with city officials and others.

One of the jurors, Joseph Roldan, said to reporters outside the courthouse that Rechnitz was “pretty much a scumbag” who was “straight up lying.”

Rechnitz drew extra attention to the trial when he testified that he enjoyed a close relationship with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for whom he raised money.

The mayor has repeatedly denied that Rechnitz enjoyed any corrupt influence. Federal and state prosecutors closed an investigation into de Blasio’s fundraising in March without bringing charges.

Roldan said the testimony had changed his opinion of the mayor “a little.”

“He’s hanging out with people like Jona Rechnitz, so ...,” Roldan said before trailing off.

The case against Seabrook and Huberfeld was the first trial to emerge from a wide-ranging corruption probe that has also led to charges against police officials and others.

Platinum Partners largely shut down operations after seven people affiliated with the firm, including co-founder Mark Nordlicht, were charged last December with running a $1 billion fraud. They have pleaded not guilty.

Platinum’s assets are being liquidated under the oversight of court-appointed receivers.

(This version of the story adds dropped word “said” in paragraph 3)

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang

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