Crooked Bx. pol convicted of looting health firm
- Last Updated: 3:30 AM, May 15, 2012
- Posted: 12:34 AM, May 15, 2012
He’s not smiling anymore.
A jury convicted ex-state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. of a grand slam of theft charges yesterday — finding he swindled nearly $500,000 from the taxpayer-funded Bronx health clinic he founded in order to finance a lavish lifestyle for himself, friends and family.
After 11 days of acrimonious deliberations and six weeks of testimony, the Brooklyn federal court panel convicted the former Senate majority leader of four counts of stealing from the nonprofit Soundview Healthcare Network between 2005 and 2008.
“We knew he was guilty. It was clear from the evidence,” Anita Coleman, Juror No. 5, said about the raft of receipts and other documentation detailing how Espada and his family lived high on the hog on the taxpayers’ dime for years.
“The prosecution laid it out beautifully for us,” she said.
Espada faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each count he was convicted of, but sentencing guidelines suggest a range of between six and seven years, prosecutors said.
He may also have to forfeit an amount of money equal to what he stole.
The disgraced politician — who had animatedly chatted with reporters during lunch breaks over the course of the trial and deliberations — said not a word as he glumly left the Downtown Brooklyn courthouse.
Looking ashen, and surrounded by a phalanx of burly bodyguards, he stepped into a waiting Cadillac SUV and sped off. One of his other sons blew kisses at reporters as he helped Espada’s wife, Connie, into the car.
The feds proved that Espada routinely charged up Soundview’s American Express card to pay for lavish personal expenses that he fraudulently claimed to be legitimate business expenses.
But jurors — who gave Judge Frederic Block their initial verdicts on Espada earlier in the day — three hours later told him they were deadlocked on four other charges against him.
They also said they were hopelessly deadlocked on the eight identical criminal charges facing his son Pedro Gautier Espada, who was accused of the same scheme at Soundview and a private cleaning company he ran.
After the verdict, jurors revealed that on the first day of deliberations there was a 9-3 vote in favor of convicting Espada — and that the three “not-guilty” jurors stubbornly refused to either explain their rationale or deliberate meaningfully for days.
The pro-conviction jurors said there was finally movement toward a conviction late last week after Block told the jurors they could issue a split verdict — and after the holdouts were walked step-by-step through the massive amount of testimony and documents incriminating Espada.
“We prevailed on them that he was at least guilty of theft and fraud,” said Coleman.
Among the damning evidence were receipts showing that Espada, on Soundview’s credit card, had charged $20,072.15 for meals at Toyo Sushi in Mamaroneck between 2005 and 2009.
He spent another $3,070 of Soundview’s funds for a relative’s birthday party that included a pony and someone dressed up as the children’s character Barney the dinosaur — and $230 on Dom Perignon champagne at Yonkers Raceway.
Another $2,000 in Soundview cash paid for Madison Square Garden tickets in March 2008 alone, $15,000 went to pay for his family’s beach vacation in Puerto Rico in November that year, and $344 bought his wife 18 pink roses and four balloon trees.
Espada — like the Grinch stealing the last Christmas tree bulb — even charged a 95-cent cookie from Starbucks on Soundview’s card.
Espada Jr. showed no visible reaction to the verdict when it was announced — although he later comforted his wife.
Prosecutors have two weeks to tell Block whether they will re-try the father and son on those charges.
Even if they aren’t retried, the Espadas face a tax-fraud trial in Manhattan federal court, which will deal with their alleged failure to declare as income the money they are accused of stealing from Soundview.
“It’s a sad day for Mr. Espada and his family,” said Espada Jr.’s defense lawyer Susan Necheles. “And a sadder day still for Soundview and the Soundview community.”
Soundview has been unable to pay worker salaries and has greatly cut back on patient services because of issues related to the scandal.
Brooklyn US Attorney Loretta Lynch, whose office prosecuted the case, said, “Pedro Espada Jr. embezzled funds to finance his personal lifestyle and lavish gifts on friends and family members at the expense of taxpayers and underprivileged members of the Bronx community who were deprived of needed health services and medical equipment.”
“The people of The Bronx trusted Pedro Espada to have their best interests at heart,” Lynch said.
“Instead, he abused that trust to the tune of more than a half a million dollars.”
Espada last week bizarrely donned rosary beads and had his entourage wear red clothes to counteract what he claimed was black magic he said prosecutors were performing on jurors favoring him.