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'I Wish I Never Met' Donor at Center of Corruption Probe, De Blasio Says

By Jeff Mays | June 8, 2016 1:52pm
 Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wish he had never met Jona Rechnitz, the wealthy businessman and donor to his campaign who is alleged to have bribed the head of the correction officers union with a designer bag stuffed with $60,000 in cash.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wish he had never met Jona Rechnitz, the wealthy businessman and donor to his campaign who is alleged to have bribed the head of the correction officers union with a designer bag stuffed with $60,000 in cash.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

ASTORIA — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said he rued the day he met Jona Rechnitz, the wealthy businessman and donor to his campaign who helped federal officials bring down the head of the correction officers union using a Ferragamo bag stuffed with $60,000 in bribe money.

"Look, I wish I never met the guy," de Blasio told reporters during an unrelated press conference at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, hours after the feds announced the arrest of Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook on fraud and corruption charges.

"If we had any inkling that this was the kind of human being he was, never would have gone near him. Of course, I wish that day had never happened but we had no reason to know this is what he was up to," the mayor added.

Rechnitz, who is a real estate developer, was a member of de Blasio's inaugural committee. He and his wife each gave the maximum to de Blasio's campaign and he also gave $102,300 to the mayor's effort to return the state Senate to Democratic control. 

Rechnitz also donated $50,000 to the mayor's nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, created to advance de Blasio's political agenda.

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Federal authorities say Rechnitz was a go-between who helped connect Manhattan-based hedge fund manager Murray Huberfeld to Seabrook as part of a scheme to steer $20 million in correction union pension money to the Platinum Partners hedge fund.

"[It's time that] Norman Seabrook got paid," Seabrook said, according to the complaint against him.

Rechnitz told Seabrook that he could net $150,000 in the scheme but Seabrook balked when the businessman delivered a payment of $60,000 in cash to the union head in an $820 Salvatore Ferragamo bag, saying that it wasn't enough, according to the complaint.

Both Seabrook and Huberfeld have been charged with fraud and conspiracy.

Rechnitz, along with Jeremy Reichberg, have also been identified as part of an expanding federal probe of the NYPD that alleges that high-ranking officers accepted cash, international trips and other gifts from the businessmen in exchange for favors from police, including escorts to the airport.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has stripped a growing number of high-ranking officers of their guns and badges and demoted others as part of the probe. Many of the officers involved have filed for retirement, while one officer who was questioned in the probe committed suicide.

Rechnitz is now a cooperating witness with the federal investigation and has pleaded guilty to fraud, according to sources.

De Blasio has maintained that he did not have a close relationship with Rechnitz.

"I never knew him before the fall of 2013 after I won the Democratic Primary, where suddenly, everyone wanted to be my friend," de Blasio said Wednesday.

De Blasio has maintained that neither he nor his campaign have done anything wrong. He said that Seabrook's arrest has no bearing on him or the city.

"I am absolutely comfortable that we have done things properly. What Norman Seabrook did with his pension fund has nothing to do with how we run our government day to day," de Blasio said.

"I'm very troubled by what's happened in the police department and I know Commissioner Bratton is as well and I think not only will a lot of people pay consequences for that, but you'll see a lot of change that will inhibit that from happening in the future," the mayor added.

The NYPD probe is one of several that the de Blasio administration is currently facing.

Federal investigators are determining whether donors to the Campaign for One New York received favors in exchange for their contributions. Also being probed is whether de Blasio's effort to win control of the state Senate violated campaign finance and election laws.

Authorities are looking into straw donors in the mayor's campaign and examining why the city lifted deed restrictions on multiple properties for individuals who donated to the mayor's nonprofit or his effort to win back the Senate.

The mayor has seen his poll numbers dip to record lows in the wake of the scandals, but has insisted that the public is not that interested in the probes and more focused on how he is working to improve life for every day residents.

He also resisted efforts to connect Seabrook's arrest to the probes surrounding his administration, in spite of the link to Rechnitz.

"I don't think it's right to connect those dots in that fashion," de Blasio said. "When the truth come out on all these pieces, I feel very, very comfortable that will be a good place."