On the 10th floor of the Brooklyn federal courthouse, former Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. waited, in a dark suit with broad white pinstripes and a purple tie, surrounded by his son and five-person legal team.
The February weather was unseasonably warm outside and Espada, facing an 18-count fraud indictment, was immoderately relaxed.
“I feel hopeful about life,” he said with an impish grin, “because I am blessed.”
Aware of his media audience, he launched into a short biographical sketch, detailing how he had grown up on public assistance in the Bronx, fought for everything in his life and would continue to fight.
The 59-year-old former senator hinted at the defense he and his counsel are preparing to present for a trial scheduled to start March 13, after months of delaying tactics that have exasperated prosecutors.
Espada accuses Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a government conspiracy to take him down, and blames his alleged fraud on the Soundview HealthCare Center he helped found, whose board of directors, his defense claims, should have known what he was doing all along.
As he told the Daily News in August, he believes Cuomo has a “personal obsession to take on and dominate my world and my manhood.”
All of this promises what is sure to be an interesting trial. Espada, formerly a master tactician of the Senate whom The New York Times once described as “skilled at exploiting disorder,” seems to thrive in the rules-based world of the courtroom, where common sense occasionally takes a backseat to due process.
Federal prosecutors claim Espada is guilty of embezzling and laundering money through Soundview and two related janitorial-services companies. He and his son, Pedro G. Espada, are accused of stealing millions of dollars from the clinic, which receives more than $1 million annually in Medicare and Medicaid grant funding for its patients. The clinic serves about 20,000 people a year, said the clinic’s director of public affairs, Rachel Fasciani.
Among the allegations Espada faces: pocketing rent from religious organizations trying to use Soundview conference rooms for services, using Soundview funds to pay for pony rides at a relative’s petting-zoo birthday gathering, hiring a ghostwriter with Soundview money for a book Espada thought of writing, making a down payment on a $125,000 Bentley, spending $1,300 on fruit baskets cut to look like floral arrangements and dropping upwards of $100,000 on restaurant meals over four years, including $20,000 at one sushi restaurant in Mamaroneck, the town outside his former Bronx district where he owns a home.
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