NEW YORK — The government’s chief witness in a trial of New York City’s former jail guard union boss described putting a $60,000 cash bribe in a luxury bag for him so he’d feel good about it as he took fresh swipes Friday at Mayor Bill de Blasio and former police officials.
Real estate developer Jona Rechnitz told a Manhattan federal court jury he decided to give Norman Seabrook the cash in a Ferragamo bag because he knew it was Seabrook’s favorite brand, and the money was a lot less than the $100,000 to $150,000 Seabrook was promised annually for steering $20 million in union money to a hedge fund.
Rechnitz, 34, of Los Angeles, said Seabrook “can at least appreciate the bag and feel good about it.”
Seabrook has pleaded not guilty to charges he accepted $60,000 in bribes to deliver the investment to the hedge fund.
A day after testifying he talked regularly with de Blasio, a Democrat, Rechnitz said he felt like he wasn’t getting his money’s worth from his $100,000 contribution to the mayor’s 2013 campaign for office.
He said he told a de Blasio aide he wasn’t interested in contributing to a campaign to keep state Senate democrats in control because he was frustrated that issues and requests he had put before the mayor’s office were not getting addressed.
“You know, I haven’t heard from the mayor in a while,” Rechnitz recalled saying.
Soon, he was on the phone with de Blasio, he said.
“The mayor told me that it would mean a great deal to him. It would be very significant to him if I could help out in this campaign. So I did,” he said. “Once the mayor called me, I felt it’s a personal favor for him and I’m going to come through.”
He said he donated the maximum: $102,000.
Later, Rechnitz testified de Blasio had complained to him that Seabrook kept criticizing the newly appointed city jails commissioner. Rechnitz later sent the mayor an email with the subject line: “Norman under control.”
Mayoral spokesman Eric Phillips said in a statement Friday: “If Jona Rechnitz says he bought the mayor, he is a liar. If he says he had unfettered access, he is a liar. The only thing Jona Rechnitz can say honestly is that he is a failed fixer of grand delusion just trying to save his own skin.”
Seabrook’s lawyer has described Rechnitz as a con man and a liar.
Rechnitz also described showering officials in the city’s police department with gifts and favors, including a 2013 trip to the college championship football game. He said he hired prostitutes while paying for “everything from A to Z on that trip,” which included a police chief and a police inspector.
Rechnitz said he approached Seabrook with the bribery offer during a trip to the Dominican Republic after an emotional Seabrook showed him a tattoo of his deceased dog on his chest and talked about life struggles, including a difficult mortgage.
“I said, ‘Yeah, you should be making money.’ He said, ‘Yes, it’s time Norman Seabrook got paid,'” the witness recalled.