Former NY state senator Espada convicted of theft

Reuters News
Posted: May 14, 2012 4:10 PM
Former NY state senator Espada convicted of theft

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal jury in Brooklyn on Monday found a former New York Democratic state senator guilty, whose brief flirtation with the Republican party gridlocked the state senate, of stealing more than $600,000 from federally funded healthcare clinics.

Pedro Espada Jr. and his son, Pedro Gautier Espada, were accused of bilking money from Soundview HealthCare Center, which receives more than $1 million in federal funding. The elder Espada, a former three-term Democratic senator representing the Bronx, serves as chief executive of Soundview, which was founded in 1978.

After more than 10 days of tense deliberations, the jury told U.S. District Judge Frederic Block that Espada, 58, was guilty of four counts of theft. The jury was unable to immediately reach a verdict on the remaining four counts against Espada, which include theft and conspiracy.

The jury, which also did not reach a verdict on the eight counts against Espada's son, resumed deliberations on Monday after announcing the partial verdict.

After the verdict was read, Espada appeared somber. His lawyers and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn did not immediately comment on the verdict.

During the six-week trial, witnesses for the government included Maria Cruz, Espada's long-time assistant who said he put family members on Soundview's payroll and its board of directors.

Other Soundview employees testified that Espada routinely spent clinic funds on personal items like presents and flowers, fancy meals and even an elaborate child's birthday party featuring a pony. The Espadas also were accused of rigging bids for cleaning contracts with Soundview.

Espada's lawyer, Susan Necheles, acknowledged during the trial that her client spent Soundview's money, but only as part of his contract, which entitled him to pay certain personal expenses with company funds. If any of the funds were used improperly, it was the fault of Soundview's accountants, who apparently green-lit the payments, she said.

Espada, who served as New York Senate majority leader from 2009 until 2010, was ousted from his Senate seat in the 2010 primary election. He faces up to 40 years in prison for the counts on which he has been convicted.

If convicted of the remaining counts, he faces an additional 55 years in prison.

His son, who was a member of the New York Assembly and helped his father run parts of Soundview, faces 10 years on each of the five counts of theft, and 15 years on each of the three conspiracy counts.

In January, Espada and his son were charged in a superseding indictment with submitting false tax returns and lying to federal agencies.

Before the trial began, Block dismissed those counts, saying they should have been brought in the Southern District of New York, not the Eastern District. A separate tax charge was severed and remains to be tried in the Eastern District.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Noeelen Walder and Eric Walsh)