October 24, 2017 / 10:00 AM / 5 months ago

Ex-Platinum executive, NYC union chief face trial for bribe charges

NEW YORK, Oct 24 (Reuters) - A New York federal jury is scheduled to hear opening statements on Tuesday in a bribery trial of the former head of New York City’s correction officers’ union and a former executive at the now-defunct hedge fund firm Platinum Partners.

Norman Seabrook, who once led the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, and former Platinum executive Murray Huberfeld are facing charges of honest services wire fraud and conspiracy before U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter in federal court in Manhattan.

In June 2016, U.S. prosecutors charged that Seabrook, 57, invested $20 million of union funds with Platinum in exchange for a bribe arranged by Huberfeld, 57. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Last December, seven people affiliated with Platinum were charged with running a $1 billion fraud that prosecutors said was “like a Ponzi scheme.” They have pleaded not guilty.

Platinum has been placed under the control of a court-appointed receiver.

Real estate developer Jona Rechnitz, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges and agreed to cooperate with authorities, will likely play a key role in the case. Rechnitz is expected to testify that he helped arrange the bribery scheme.

Rechnitz, a donor to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, is linked to a wide-ranging corruption probe that has led to charges against police officers and others.

No charges were brought against de Blasio, and a related probe into his fundraising was closed in March.

Seabrook’s lawyer, Paul Shechtman, and Huberfeld’s lawyer, Henry Mazurek, have said in court hearings that they plan to challenge Rechnitz’s credibility.

At one hearing in August, the judge summarized their planned defense as an attempt to cast Rechnitz as “the financial equivalent of Keyser Soze,” Kevin Spacey’s character in the 1995 film “The Usual Suspects.”

In the film, Spacey’s character is a crime lord posing as a petty criminal cooperating with authorities who is able to escape prosecution by fabricating stories about other crimes. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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