COBA union boss Norman Seabrook
Norman Seabrook, NYC correction officers’ union head, arrested on federal corruption charges President of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent AssociationnNorman Seabrook, 56, arrested for irregular financial dealings and accepting kickbacks
Accused of fraudlently steering union funds to hedge-fund Platinum Partners in 2014
Moved $5 million from its annuity fund into an unnamed hedge fund without board approval around August 2014
Partner in the scam, hedge-fund financier Murray Huberfeld, also arrested
Other influencing gifts, were two free trips to Israel, $60,000 payoff delivered in designer bag
Both men charged with honest services wire fraud
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara – ‘the scheme hatched by Norman Seabrook and Murray Huberfeld is a “very simple and straightforward quid pro quo”’
Seabrook to be suspended from job as city correction officer
Norman Seabrook, the powerful head of New York city’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, was arrested early Wednesday on federal corruption charges. Seabrook, 56, is accused of sending $20 million from his union’s pension fund to a hedge fund controlled by Huberfeld. Huberfeld, in return, is accused of paying Seabrook $60,000 in cash, with the promise of more.
He was taken into custody by federal agents at his Morris Park home in the Bronx about 6 a.m for allegedly receiving kickbacks from an investment firm that does business with the largest municipal jail union in the country.
The trangle of the fund owner Norman Seabrook, hedge-fund manager Murray Huberfeld and facilitator Jona Rechnitz, with the flow chart of the scheme presented by US Attorney, Preeta Bharara
The kickback scheme was uncovered and arrests made thanks to information from a cooperating witness, who sources identified as Jona Rechnitz, a Brooklyn-based businessman who raised money for Mayor de Blasio and who has ties to the NYPD.
According to the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Seabrook received the payoff in a fancy bag from Ferragamo, a luxury goods store Seabrook particularly liked. FBI agents found ten boxes of Ferragamo shoes at Seabrook’s home during a Wednesday morning search.
Huberfeld’s hedge fund also gave an $18,000 donation to a “private school” with ties to an unnamed cooperating witness to thank the cooperating witness for connecting Seabrook and the fund, according to the complaint.
US Attorney, Preeta Bharara ‘the scheme hatched by Norman Seabrook and Murray Huberfeld is a “very simple and straightforward quid pro quo.”’
Rechnitz’s and fellow New York business man Jeremy Reichberg have been the target of a probe by the FBI, Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office over fund-raising activities for the mayor, and whether Rechnitz and Reichberg gave high-ranking police officers lavish gifts and vacations in exchange for police escorts and security.
Court papers say the cooperating witness who has been identified only as CW-1 , has already “pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit honest services fraud in connection with, among other things, this matter, and is providing information to the government in the hope of obtaining leniency when he’s sentenced.”
Asked about Rechnitz’s involvement in the Seabrook case Wednesday, de Blasio said, “Look, I wish I never met the guy.”
“I never knew him before the fall of 2013,” he said of Rechnitz, who along with his wife donated $9,900 to de Blasio’s mayoral campaign and later ponied up another $50,000 to the mayor’s now shuttered Campaign for One New York.
“If I had any inkling that this was the kind of human being he was, never would’ve gone near him. So of course I wish that day had never happened. But we had no reason to know this is what he was up to.”
Former union employee William Valentine,lost his union job unfairly after he tried to get a copy of COBA’s mailing list. He filed two lawsuits that spawned the federal probe.
Charged with Seabrook Wednesday in the kickback case was Murray Huberfeld, a Manhattan-based hedge-fund financier.
Both men are charged with honest services wire fraud, according to court papers.
CW-1 introduced Seabrook to Huberfeld in 2013, after the union boss complained “about not getting any personal financial benefit for investing COBA money,” court papers say.
It’s time “Norman Seabrook got paid,” Seabrook said, according to court papers.
Huberfeld “jumped at the chance” to give him a kickback, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
New York financier Norman Huberfeld, seabrooks partner in the scheme, arrested also
Seabrook agreed to invest his union’s pension money in Huberfeld’s high-risk Platinum Partners in return for a cut, court papers say.
The feds claim that between November 2013 through 2015, Seabrook received kickbacks for funneling more than $20 million in wire transfers from the union’s pension fund to Huberfeld’s company Platinum Partners, according to court papers.
The FBI and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau were involved in the investigation.
The scheme was expected to earn Seabrook between $100,000 and $150,000 a year, Bharara said.
The middle man, Jona Rechnitz
Rechnitz, who was a business partner of Huberfeld’s, was allegedly used as the middleman.
CW-1 stuffed an $820 designer bag from one of Seabrook’s “favorite” stores with $60,000 in cash and delivered it to him, Bharara said.
“For a Ferragamo bag stuffed with $60,000 in cash, Seabrook allegedly sold himself and his duty to safeguard the retirement funds of his fellow correction officers,” Bharara said.
In all, Seabrook invested $20 million of the union’s money with Platinum, court papers say. He stopped sending money to the fund in the middle of 2015 — after Bharara’s office subpoenaed COBA’s financial records, sources said.
Bharara said Huberfeld had repaid CW-1 the $60,000 — and then tried to cover it up as a payment for 16 Knicks tickets. The team was 4-20 at the time, the prosecutor noted.
Bharara said that when agents raided Seabrook’s home Wednesday morning, they found a Ferragamo bag that matched the one used in the payoff — along with 10 pairs of Ferragamo shoes.
The corruption probe is a part of a larger investigation involving NYPD officials and City Hall.
The investigation revealed that in December 2013, Seabrook complained to a third party “about not getting any personal financial benefit for investing COBA money,” according to court papers.
Union boss Norman Seabrook exiting the Manhattan court after the hearing
That third party — who’s already pleaded guilty in the case and is now cooperating with the federal investigation — introduced Seabrook to Huberfeld.
“Seabrook made it clear that if COBA were to invest in Platinum, Seabrook would need to be paid a bribe,” court papers state.
Huberfeld paid Seabrook $60,000 in cash for receiving the union’s money, officials claim.
At least one payoff was given to Seabrook in an $820 Ferragamo bag.
The NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau got involved when it was discovered that Seabrook was introduced to CW-1 through an NYPD cop, known only in court papers as “NYPD Officer.”
The cop and Seabrook traveled to the Dominican Republic together in 2013, where Seabrook met CW-1, court papers say.
Police sources said that former NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks and several other police officers attended the trip. Banks received a subpoena more than a year ago in the Seabrook probe.Banks resigned from the NYPD in November 2014, saying he wasn’t happy with his reduced crimefighting role.
“Banks had no idea any untoward union stuff with them was transpiring,” a source close to him told The News. “He was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, but he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Seabrook will be suspended from his job as a city correction officer, the department announced.
Gov. Cuomo said he was “very disappointed” in the allegations against Seabrook, who’d headed the union for 21 years.
“Assuming the allegations are true … he would have let himself down, let his family down, let his union down and added to a I think dangerous situation in New York City,” Cuomo said, before taking an apparent poke at de Blasio. “There’s a sense in New York City of a growing corruption scandal,” Cuomo said.
At a separate event, the mayor called the allegations against Seabrook “disgusting.”
“These are allegations, but I’ll say if proven true it’s disgusting and very, very sad,” de Blasio said.
He called it a “tough day” for the department.
William Valentin, former COBA corresponding secretary, his law suits kicked off federal probe that led to arrests
“If proven, it’s incredibly troubling that someone would steal from his own workers,” he said.The probe appears to have been triggered in part by two lawsuits filed by William Valentin, COBA’s former corresponding secretary.|Valentin, 45, of Suffolk County, claims he was unfairly tossed from his union post after he tried to get a copy of the organization’s mailing list.|
In court papers Valentin claimed the union moved $5 million from its annuity fund into an unnamed hedge fund without board approval around August 2014.
That fund paid for Seabrook’s two trips to Israel over the past several years, the lawsuit alleges.
Valentin woke up Wednesday to news of Seabrook’s arrest with text messages from friends congratulating him for helping to take the powerful union leader down.
“I have full faith in the U.S. attorney,” Valentin told The News. “The correction officers of the city of New York will now possibly get the relief that they desperately need.”