Norman Seabrook, President Of Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, Arrested For Demanding And Accepting Bribes In Exchange For Investing Union Money In New York-Based Hedge Fund
Murray Huberfeld, Founder of Manhattan-based Hedge Fund, Also Charged For Paying Off Seabrook to Invest in the Fund
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today that NORMAN SEABROOK and MURRAY HUBERFELD were arrested this morning and charged in Manhattan federal court with committing honest services wire fraud, in connection with HUBERFELD’s payment of a $60,000 bribe to SEABROOK, the President of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (“COBA”), and the promise of future bribe payments, in exchange for SEABROOK’s investment of $20 million of COBA money in HUBERFELD’s hedge fund. SEABROOK was arrested this morning by FBI agents in the Bronx, and HUBERFELD was arrested this morning by FBI agents in Manhattan. They will be presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin N. Fox in Manhattan this afternoon.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, Norman Seabrook and Murray Huberfeld engaged in a straightforward and explicit bribery scheme. 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. Norman Seabrook, as COBA’s president for over two decades, allegedly made decisions about how to invest the nest egg for thousands of hard-working public servants, based not on what was good for them, but on what was good for Norman Seabrook.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriquez said: “When an official takes advantage of his or her position as steward of an organization’s financial resources in order to line their own pockets, it is a dereliction of duty for someone trusted to protect the financial contributions of the hard working men and women who belong to the organization. When a hedge fund manager provides bribe payments to organizations to gain their business, he or she puts the financial security of the fund’s investors at risk. This kind of criminal collusion destabilizes the system and undermines investors’ confidence in the integrity of the marketplace. The FBI, along with our partners, will continue to work to protect our citizens from the destructive consequences of corruption and deceit.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court:
COBA is New York City’s largest correction officers union and the largest municipal jail union in the United States. COBA represents over 9,000 correction officers in New York City, including at Riker’s Island. NORMAN SEABROOK, the defendant, is the President of COBA and has been for over 20 years. SEABROOK’s power over the affairs of COBA is rarely questioned by his Executive Board due to his ability to affect their assignments, pay, and hours. SEABROOK’s control extends to the union’s finances, including the administration of its “Annuity Fund,” a retirement benefits program funded by the City of New York that invests more than $70 million for correction officers’ retirements.
Toward the end of 2013, on a trip to the Dominican Republic with, among others, an individual who is now a cooperating witness for the Government (“CW-1”), SEABROOK told CW-1 that he worked hard to invest COBA’s money and was not getting anything out of it, and it was time that “Norman Seabrook got paid.” CW-1 was friendly with and had done business with MURRAY HUBERFELD, a founder and part owner of Platinum Partners (“Platinum”), a Manhattan-based hedge fund that principally ran two funds. CW-1 was aware that Platinum was looking to attract public and institutional investors – as opposed to its more typical investor set of high net-worth individuals – and told HUBERFELD that SEABROOK would likely invest COBA money in Platinum if HUBERFELD were willing to pay SEABROOK money. HUBERFELD agreed to the proposition, and HUBERFELD worked out a formula in which SEABROOK would be paid a kickback of a portion of the profits from COBA’s investment that HUBERFELD estimated could be between $100,000 and $150,000 per year.
SEABROOK then began investing COBA’s money, at first going through the motions of having Platinum make a pitch to COBA’s Annuity Fund board and having advisers conduct diligence. Those advisers included attorneys who expressed concern that public pensions like COBA do not typically invest in higher-risk vehicles like hedge funds. In March 2014, COBA’s Annuity Fund made a $10 million investment in one of Platinum’s funds. In June 2014 – this time without running the investment by the COBA Board or seeking any approval – SEABROOK invested $5 million, or 40 percent, of COBA’s own assets in the same fund. In August 2014, the Annuity Fund invested another $5 million in Platinum. By that point, COBA was the largest investor in that Platinum fund for all of 2014, and amounted to more than half of all incoming investments for the fund. At the same time, the fund was experiencing significant redemptions by other investors.
Toward the end of 2014, SEABROOK wanted the first of his kickback payments, and demanded it from CW-1. HUBERFELD told CW-1 that the fund had not performed as well as expected, and that he could pay SEABROOK only $60,000. CW-1 agreed to lay out the cash, and HUBERFELD agreed to reimburse CW-1 on Platinum’s behalf. HUBERFELD suggested that to paper over the reimbursement, CW-1 invoice Platinum for a number of CW-1’s tickets to the Knicks, in the amount of $60,000, and Platinum would then cut a check to CW-1.
CW-1 paid SEABROOK the first $60,000 kickback on December 11, 2014. Before meeting SEABROOK that evening, CW-1 went to one of SEABROOK’s favorite stores, Salvatore Ferragamo on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and bought an expensive bag for SEABROOK. CW-1 put the money in the bag, and met SEABROOK a few blocks away in SEABROOK’s COBA vehicle, where he handed SEABROOK the bag. CW-1 and SEABROOK had dinner with two other persons, then attended a Torah dedication ceremony, after which SEABROOK left Manhattan. These events have been corroborated by, among other things, phone records, e-mails, license plate reader records, and a receipt from Salvatore Ferragamo. On the same day, CW-1’s assistant prepared a $60,000 invoice to Platinum for Knicks tickets, which CW-1 forwarded by e-mail to HUBERFELD. Three days later, Platinum paid CW-1 by check.
HUBERFELD, through another co-conspirator not identified in the Complaint, continued to lobby SEABROOK for more money in 2015. However, after a lawsuit filed by a former COBA board member referred to the Platinum investments, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office grand jury investigation resulted in subpoenas to Platinum and COBA in May 2015, no further investments were made.
SEABROOK, 56, of the Bronx, New York, and HUBERFELD, 55, of Manhattan New York, have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, and one count of honest services wire fraud. Each of the two counts carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division, and noted that the investigation is continuing.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Martin Bell, Russell Capone, and Kan M. Nawaday are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.