Wall Street Journal: Use of Pepper Spray in Rikers Island Classrooms Sparks Concerns

City council members raise objections, but correction officials say spray is needed to break up fights involving young inmates


Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL



The Norman Seabrook kickback allegations

By Mark Chiusano

Originally published by amNY on June 9, 2016

After being arrested on federal corruption charges, Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, exits United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 8, 2016. (Credit: Getty Images/ Drew Angerer)

After being arrested on federal corruption charges, Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, exits United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 8, 2016. (Credit: Getty Images/ Drew Angerer)

On a visit to the troubled Rikers Island jail facilities a few years ago, Councilmember Daniel Dromm was taken aback by an unannounced companion accompanying a group that included council members and the corrections commissioner.

The companion was Norman Seabrook, the powerful president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association who has held that post for 21 years.

Dromm says he was surprised to see a union official there, watching over them. He was more surprised by Seabrook’s response when Dromm asked about the treatment of prisoners in solitary confinement.

Seabrook “became enraged,” Dromm says, “screaming at me.” Dromm says that Seabrook questioned the councilmember’s right to be on Rikers Island. “A total bully,” Dromm calls Seabrook. “It speaks to the bravado of a man who thinks he’s above the law.”

On Wednesday morning, that perception was paired with serious allegations. FBI agents arrested Seabrook at his Morris Park home and charged with taking kickbacks — including $60,000 passed hand-to-hand in a Ferragamo bag — in a corruption case that could have dramatic effects in NYC politics and on Rikers Island itself

You scratch my back. . .
Seabrook is accused of investing $20 million of union money, largely his members’ pension funds, in Manhattan hedge fund Platinum Partners, for a price.

Allegedly, Seabrook got a cut of Platinum’s profits from the investment, funneled through a go-between, as well as an initial fee. Murray Huberfeld, a manager at Platinum, has also been charged.

It started on a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2013, paid for by the go-between, Jona Rechnitz, a Brooklyn businessman and donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio who plead guilty to fraud conspiracy charges and is now cooperating with the government, according to media accounts.

Rechnitz made the trip with Seabrook and an unidentified police officer, according to the criminal complaint. After a night of drinking, the complaint alleges, Seabrook groused that he “worked hard to invest COBA’s money” and wasn’t benefitting personally from it. It was time that “Norman Seabrook got paid,” Seabrook allegedly said.

Rechnitz also allegedly paid for Seabrook’s airfare to Israel, California and Las Vegas. But back in NYC, things heated up. In late 2014, after Seabrook had successfully deposited funds with Platinum — including more than 40 percent of the union’s assets — he demanded his kickback. So Rechnitz bought an $820 Ferragamo bag — Seabrook’s favorite brand, according to the complaint — and used it to stash the $60,000 cash. The size and shape of the bag has not been publicly identified but this bag, at the right price, should give you an idea.

The bag, along with 10 pairs of Ferragamo shoes, were found by FBI agents in Seabrook’s house Wednesday morning.

A tale as old as time
Corruption in NYC is nothing new, from the case of police officer Frank Serpico which led to the investigations of the Knapp Commission in the 70s, to former Assemb. Sheldon Silver’s guilty verdict earlier this year.

The Seabrook case is just one of the reported local, state and federal investigations swirling around New York City at the moment, encompassing the NYPD and the fundraising activities of the mayor’s office.

It shows the effect corruption can have on individual New Yorkers — in Seabrook’s case, through the influence he has wielded for decades, a power which has sometimes stood in the way of reforming Rikers and changing the attitudes and actions of corrections officers.

Retired Correction Commissioner Martin Horn says Seabrook was a “more effective and aggressive leader” than other municipal union heads and was adept at advocating for his members’ needs (of course, that advocacy allegedly didn’t extend to their pension funds).

Seabrook had strategic relationships with elected officials, Horn says. Indeed, Gov. George Pataki appointed Seabrook to the MTA board. He was one of the first union leaders to support the mayoral candidacy of Michael Bloomberg and of Bill de Blasio.

In negotiating with Seabrook, Horn says there was always a “quid pro quo.”

Horn describes an early effort to combine the agencies of probation and correction for efficiency, which required approval in Albany. It was going nowhere, and Horn says he was told state legislators wouldn’t act unless Seabrook was in agreement.

So Horn went to Seabrook to discuss, and he says Seabrook asked what he would get in return for his support.

“I had nothing to give him,” Horn says.

The agencies remain separate.

Read more here.

Capital: Council to introduce Rikers Island package

By Gloria Pazmino

The City Council is introducing a package of bills on Tuesday to require the city’s Department of Correction to provide detailed reports on inmates’ demographic information and the department’s use-of-force policy, and to create a crisis intervention plan at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.

In total, the Council will introduce eight bills, with a majority of them being co-sponsored by Councilmen Dan Garodnick and Danny Dromm, Democrats of Manhattan and Queens.

One of the bills would require the department to provide quarterly reports on the jail’s inmate demographics and include specific information such as their gang affiliation and their level of education.

Currently, the department compiles demographic reports, but only on a yearly basis, which council members said does not provide timely information about the inmate population given the high rate of turn over.

“Knowing their age, race, and gender will help us understand who specifically is staying at Rikers Island,” Dromm told Capital.

A second proposal, sponsored by Garodnick, Dromm and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, would require D.O.C. to publish its specific policies on use of force on a city website and make them readily available to the public.

The document would outline specific circumstances that would warrant use of force on an inmate, as well as how the department responds when there is an inmate disturbance.

Read more here.

Mayor Signs into Law Dromm-Sponsored Bills to Dramatically Reduce NYC’s Cooperation with Deportations

“Limiting ICE’s access to detainees at Riker’s Island is a very important step in the right direction toward protecting our immigrant communities,” said City Council Education Committee Chair and Bills Co-Sponsor Daniel Dromm. “ICE’s practices in the past may be unconstitutional and only served to divide families.  ICE’s actions made our communities less safe by increasing suspicion about cooperation with law enforcement agencies.  I thank the Mayor, the Speaker, my colleagues and the many advocates who worked hard to improve the lives of our immigrant neighbors by passing this legislation.  Our national immigration policy is broken.  We have a moral obligation to act on the local level to save our families and friends from deportation.”

DNAinfo: Street to Be Renamed for Musician Who Inspired Hitchcock’s ‘The Wrong Man’

By Katie Honan

The man who inspired the Alfred Hitchcock suspense film “The Wrong Man” will have a street co-named for him in the neighborhood that served as the backdrop for the classic 1956 flick.

Manny Balestrero, an Elmhurst father, husband and musician who was cast into the spotlight after he was falsely accused of a robbery in 1953, will be honored with Manny “The Wrong Man” Balestrero Way at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue.

According to Balestrero’s youngest son Greg, the renaming on Saturday, Sept. 27 is a great honor, and will serve to further exonerate him from the decades-old crime.

Balestrero lived with his wife and two children on 73rd Street in the 1950s and played the bull fiddle at the famed Stork Club in Manhattan, according to his son.

He was arrested on Jan. 14, 1953 for a robbery of the Prudential Insurance Company office on 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, which he had visited to borrow money from his wife’s insurance policy, according to a Life Magazine article.

The teller thought she recognized him as a man who had robbed them twice before, and two other witnesses identified him.

But the police and the witnesses had the wrong man.

Balestrero, who was played in the film by Henry Fonda, was later exonerated when the real robber, Charles Daniell, was arrested during an attempted robbery of an Astoria deli.

At the precinct Daniell reportedly told officers “name any stickup in Jackson Heights, and I did it.”

wrong man

The renaming was proposed by Councilman Danny Dromm, who said he wanted to highlight some of Elmhurst’s history while also bringing attention to the plight of those wrongfully convicted.

“It’s kind of a way to make up for the pain and suffering they went through,” he said.

Read more here.