Retrial Begins for City Councilman in Corruption Case
By Benjamin Weiser
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have again asked a jury to convict City Councilman Larry B. Seabrook on corruption charges, accusing him on Wednesday of having abused his office “to enrich himself, members of his family and a woman he was having an intimate relationship with.”
The government’s claim came in the opening of the retrial of Mr. Seabrook, a Bronx Democrat, in Federal District Court. His first trial ended in a mistrial in December after the jury was deadlocked.
As Round 2 began, the government had changed the order of witnesses from the first trial and thus the way the evidence would unfold before the jury.
But both sides’ arguments seemed largely unchanged. A prosecutor, Steve C. Lee, told the jury that Mr. Seabrook, 60, had engaged in a series of schemes that defrauded the city of more than $1 million in taxpayer money.
Mr. Lee said that the councilman had used “a dysfunctional network” of nonprofit organizations that he controlled to funnel money to family members and to his girlfriend.
In another scheme, Mr. Lee said, Mr. Seabrook helped a Bronx businessman win a contract to install boilers in the new Yankee Stadium, and then “helped himself to over $40,000 in corrupt and illegal payments” as a reward for what he had done.
Prosecutors say that Mr. Seabrook obtained the illegal payments by having the businessman donate money to a Bronx political club that Mr. Seabrook controlled, and that Mr. Seabrook then submitted fake receipts to the club for reimbursement.
Mr. Seabrook’s lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, rejected the government’s portrait of his client. He depicted Mr. Seabrook as an honorable public servant who had established many job and educational programs, and said that any wrongdoing had occurred without the councilman’s knowledge.
“You are really being subjected to a false view of what the evidence is going to show,” Mr. Ricco told the jury. “The evidence is going to show that Mr. Seabrook is a distinguished man. He’s not the bum that was described.”
Mr. Seabrook represents communities like Co-op City, Williamsbridge and Baychester. A fixture in Bronx politics for three decades, he also served in the State Assembly and the State Senate.
He declined to comment on Wednesday. Judge Deborah A. Batts told both sides last week that she wanted the case “tried in this courtroom, not in the media.”
During the government statement, Mr. Lee told the jury about a $177 deli receipt for a bagel and a Snapple drink that in some ways has come to symbolize the government’s case against Mr. Seabrook. Prosecutors say the items originally cost about $7, but that the receipt was doctored and that Mr. Seabrook submitted it for reimbursement at the higher amount.
Mr. Lee cited the receipt as one of several examples of how Mr. Seabrook had sought reimbursement for false or personal expenses from the Bronx club, saying Mr. Seabrook ran it “as his personal piggy bank.”
Mr. Ricco, though, estimated that Mr. Seabrook submitted 2,500 to 5,000 receipts a year. “They’re going to put one receipt up there for a bagel, another receipt for some wine, and one trip to Washington, D.C.,” he said, adding that had Mr. Seabrook “ingratiated himself the way the government said, you would see hundreds of them.”
Mr. Ricco also told the jury that some government witnesses who had worked for the nonprofit organizations and received immunity would testify that they had forged documents or stolen money from the groups.
“But they’re going to be united in one truth,” he said. “They never brought it to the attention of Councilman Seabrook.”