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Imprisoned Former Head of New York City Jails Guards’ Union Granted Release

by Matt Clarke

On February 23, 2023, a federal judge who had earlier refused to reduce the sentence of the former head of the New York City jail guards’ union convicted in a costly bribery scheme, instead granted compassionate release to Norman Seabrook, 63.

The former president of the city’s powerful Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), Seabrook had by then served 21 months of his 58-month sentence. He remains subject to a three-year term of supervised release set in his original sentence.

Based largely on the testimony of real estate developer Jona Rechnitz, who served as bagman to deliver a $60,000 bribe, Seabrook was sentenced in February 2019 for taking the payoff to invest $20 million of COBA funds in a risky hedge fund that went bankrupt, resulting in a loss of $19 million from jail guards’ retirement accounts. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.46.]

In April 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York noted that Seabrook, who is Black, ended up with a harsher sentence than his White co-conspirator; defunct Platinum Partners co-founder Murray Huberfeld initially received a 30-month sentence for paying the bribe, but his sentence was reduced to 13 months, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held he was liable for financial damages no higher than the $60,000 he took to pay Seabrook’s bribe, rather than the $19 million in COBA losses that the district court used. The same appellate court upheld Seabrook’s conviction.

In denying Seabrook’s habeas corpus petition, the district court reserved judgment on the racial disparity in his sentencing. But in August 2022, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein declined to grant a sentence reduction on that basis. However, he suggested that Seabrook was a good candidate for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3582(c)(1)(A), as expanded by the First Step Act (FSA) of 2018. [See: PLN, Feb. 2023, p.53.]

Taking that advice, Seabrook petitioned for compassionate release. Overruling the government’s objections, Judge Hellerstein found the “unjust disparity between Huberfeld’s and Seabrook’s sentences,” though insufficient to justify a sentence reduction, instead satisfied the FSA’s “extraordinary and compelling circumstance justifying his release.”

That accomplished much the same thing for Seabrook; his sentence was reduced to time served, and he was freed on March 6, 2023. In addition to his term of supervised release, he remains subject to a $19 million restitution order, at 10% of his annual income. He 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, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30691 (S.D.N.Y.).

Additional source: New York Times