Bronx Councilman Guilty of Most Corruption Counts
Friday, July 27, 2012
A veteran politician was convicted Thursday on nine of 12 counts in a corruption case accusing him of putting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars meant for community projects in the pockets of his girlfriend and family.
The mixed verdict against Councilman Larry Seabrook came less than a year after another jury deadlocked on the fraud charges in federal court in Manhattan.
Seabrook, 61, sat motionless Thursday as he listened to the forewoman respond "not guilty" when asked for verdicts on the first three counts but then reel off guilty verdicts on the remaining nine.
"I have faith in the system," Seabrook told reporters outside court. "I have faith in God, and now I'll prepare myself for what's next."
Said defense lawyer Edward Wilford: "We respect the jury's verdict. We don't agree with it."
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the conviction "ensures that the councilman will pay for betraying the public trust."
At both trials, Seabrook, a Bronx Democrat who previously served as a state assemblyman and a senator, vigorously denied any wrongdoing.
Wilford argued that the government built its case on the word of "liars and thieves" who were directly in charge of the community projects and never clued the councilman in on their "financial chicanery."
Seabrook "did his job," Wilford told jurors. "He advocated for his constituents. He fought for programs to help them."
The case stemmed from an investigation into possible abuse of discretionary funds that the City Council sets aside for its members to use on community projects of their choice. Federal authorities had alleged that from 2002 through 2009, Seabrook created a slush fund by directing more than $2 million of the funds to nonprofit organizations that he controlled but that weren't doing legitimate work.
The councilman paid more than $400,000 in salary and consulting fees over the seven-year span to his girlfriend, siblings and other relatives, prosecutors said. The girlfriend, Gloria Jones-Grant, took a salary even though she was unqualified to run a nonprofit, they said.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Karl Metzner cited alleged misuse of a 2002 allocation to pay two golf instructors to give lessons to poor children.
"Who actually got paid under their contract? Gloria Jones-Grant," he said. "What did she do? She drove some kid to the golf course. What did she get paid to do that? $1,875."
As they had in the first trial, prosecutors also presented records they said showed Seabrook used a political club to launder public funds for personal use. The government's evidence included a receipt the councilman submitted for reimbursement that had been doctored to inflate the cost of a $7 bagel sandwich and a Snapple to $177.
Seabrook becomes the third disgraced politician - along with Miguel Martinez and Hiram Monserrate - convicted in the last three years of diverting public money while serving on the council, Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gil Hearn said.
"His career as an elected official is over, and his life as a convicted felon begins," Hearn said.
Seabrook will be sentenced on Jan. 8.