WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
A mistrial has been declared in Councilman Larry Seabrook's federal corruption trial. After a solid week of deliberations the jury could not reach a consensus on any of the 12 counts against the 60-year-old Bronx council member.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Baharara vowed to re-try the case against Seabrook. "Public corruption erodes the public's confidence in its elected officials and it degrades our democracy," Baharara wrote in a statement.
After Judge Robert Patterson Jr. declared a mistrial he told jurors that they would have the opportunity to meet privately with both the prosecution and defense teams so lawyers could ask them questions about the three-week case. Only four jurors made themselves available.
Jury Foreman Frank DeBrino said both the prosecution and defense team put in strong performances but the panel remained divided. "Different views, different views of the evidence," he told reporters as he walked briskly from the Federal Courthouse in Lower Manhattan.
On the steps of the court house Councilman Seabrook remained optimistic, even though he faces a retrial on12 counts that carry between 5 and 20 years each, as well as fines that could run into the seven figures.
"I continue to have faith and certainly have faith in God and faith in the jury system. Was hoping that the jury would come to that conclusion," Seabrook said. "And that's what we will live with what was said and keep the faith."
But when pressed on whether it was a victory, Seabrook responded, "Well, we are standing here."
Seabrook's legal troubles have gone on for almost two years. When asked if he could effectively represent his Bronx district in the face of his ongoing legal struggle he was resolute.
"Been doing it and will continue to do that. I will be at the business of doing what has to be done for my constituents,” Seabrook said.
One of Seabrook's attorneys, Ed Wilford tried to put the hung jury in its best light for his client.
"It is important to realize that the fact that a verdict wasn't reached is a reflection on people's adherence to our Constitutional principles, the presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the government was not able to convince twelve people of the case we presented,” he said. “We will see what happens next time."
During the three-week trial, the prosecutors had a few setbacks. A Bronx businessman that prosecutors said paid a $50,000 bribe to Seabrook to get work at the new Yankee Stadium testified the payment was not a bribe. Another key government witness, Seabrook's former girlfriend and executive director of the non-profits he was alleged to have used to pocket city grant money, testified she was under the care of a doctor for dementia and had trouble with her memory. The government had granted her immunity from criminal prosecution for her testimony, which turned out to be a low point for prosecutors.
Staff from the City Council and its General Counsel office monitored the ad hoc press availability. Seabrook resigned his chairmanship of the Civil Rights Committee and the councilman's district has not been shortchanged on discretionary City Council grant money.
But the allegations at the heart of the government's case — that Seabrook used non-profits he created to siphon off more than a million dollars in City Council grant money and allegedly falsified his City Council expense reports — have caused council leadership and colleagues to keep their distance.
His term expires in 2013.