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Federal Judge Refuses to Shorten Corruption Sentence for Former Head of New York City Jail Guards’ Union

by Matt Clarke

On August 10, 2022, the federal court for the Southern District of New York denied a habeas corpus petition filed by the former head of the union representing guards at the New York City Department of Correction. However, the Court suggested procedures by which Norman Seabrook, the one-time President of the city Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), might file for compassionate release.

Seabrook, 62, was sentenced in February 2019 to a 58-month prison term for taking bribes to invest COBA money with a hedge fund that then went bankrupt, draining $20 million from the retirement accounts of city jail guards. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.46.] Only $1 million of the union money was recovered.

In April 2022, the Court ruled that Seabrook, who is Black, may have received too harsh a sentence due to his race. His white co-conspirator, defunct Platinum Partners co-founder Murray Huberfeld, pleaded guilty and was initially given a 30-month sentence. That was then slashed to just seven months after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Court held that the amount of financial harm he had done had to be calculated differently. Seabrook also appealed his conviction to the Second Circuit, but it was upheld. See: United States v. Seabrook, 968 F.3d 224 (2d Cir. 2020); and 814 F. App’x 661 (2d Cir. 2020).

Seabrook then petitioned the Court to vacate his convictions, which Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein largely denied, save for the alleged racial disparity in sentencing. In his review, the judge began by noting that Seabrook and Huberfeld were charged together. But when the latter took a plea deal, only the former COBA head went to trial, where he was duly convicted.

“For a sentencing error to be cognizable on collateral review, it must be ‘of the fundamental character that renders the entire proceeding irregular and invalid,’” the judge said, quoting United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178 (1979) — and “[a] ‘later development’ that ‘did not affect the lawfulness of the judgment itself then or now,’ is not enough to vacate the sentence imposed.” Though Seabrook’s sentence was harsh compared to his co-conspirator’s, the Court allowed, he “cannot complain that his higher sentence after trial was a punishment for not pleading guilty,” as Huberfeld did. That’s because “a defendant has no constitutional or otherwise fundamental interest in whether a sentence reflects his or her relative culpability with respect to his or her codefendants,” the Court explained, citing United States v. Bokun, 73 F.3d 8 (2d Cir. 1995).

Thus Seabrook’s petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 was denied. However, Judge Hellerstein said, he had a good case for compassionate release under the First Step Act of 2018. [See: PLN, Jan. 2019, p.34.] As codified under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), that allows courts “wide discretion to consider intervening changes of law or fact in reducing sentences,” the judge said, citing Concepcion v. United States, 142 S. Ct. 2389 (2022).

“My discussion of Seabrook’s disproportionately high sentence would constitute adequate basis for a compassionate reduction of his sentence,” the judge declared. But he noted that Seabrook must first make application for that relief to the federal Bureau of Prisons and closed the case.

Seabrook was represented by attorneys from the New York firms of Bracewell LLP, Levitt & Kaizer, and Roger B. Adler, P.C. See: United States v. Seabrook, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143010 (S.D.N.Y.) 

Additional source: KTAR

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