Jury to be selected in retrial of ex-jail guard union boss

NEW YORK — The bribery retrial of New York City's longtime ex-jail guard union boss is set to begin Wednesday with jury selection.

A jury deadlocked last year in the first trial of Norman Seabrook. If a jury is selected fast enough, opening statements could begin soon afterward.

The 58-year-old was arrested in 2016 on conspiracy and fraud charges.

Prosecutors say he accepted $60,000 in bribes in a $1,000 Ferragamo handbag to steer $20 million in union funds to a hedge fund.

His lawyers say he never took bribes and most of his cash resulted from gambling winnings.

The retrial will have a new wrinkle after U.S. District judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled two weeks ago that the government can show jurors evidence that the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association lost $19 million of its $20 million investment when the hedge fund went bankrupt.

Earning up to $300,000 annually, Seabrook led the nation's largest municipal jail guard union for over two decades. In his powerful post, he was beloved by guards, feared by jail administrators and was approached delicately by city politicians.

Seabrook was believed to be so influential that some thought he had more influence over the city's Rikers Island jail complex than any other person, even the head of the city's Department of Corrections. Rikers is part of the city's 10,000-inmate jail system.

The government's key witness in the trial is Jona Rechnitz, a Los Angeles real estate developer, who testified last October that Seabrook was promised from $100,000 to $150,000 annually to steer union funds to the hedge fund.

Seabrook's lawyer has described Rechnitz as a con man and a liar.

Rechnitz testified at the first trial that he contributed $100,000 to the 2013 New York City mayoral campaign of Democrat Bill de Blasio, who won the election.

A spokesman for de Blasio has said Rechnitz's contributions had no effect on government decisions.

Richnitz testified in a cooperation deal after pleading guilty to conspiracy, saying he arranged a bribe for Seabrook and gave gifts to public officials, including de Blasio, in a bid to gain favors.

At the first trial, defense attorney Paul Shechtman praised his client's union work, saying he'd vastly improved the standing of city guards from the mid-1990s until his arrest, increasing their salaries and benefits package substantially.

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