Former New York legislator Pedro Espada Jr., aged 59, was sentenced to 5 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Frederic Block, at a hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, NY. He had been found guilty of embezzling more than $500,000 from the Bronx-based Soundview Healthcare Network, which he ran, and of lying on IRS tax returns.
He was ordered to forfeit more than $368,000 to the government, to reimburse the same amount to victims (contributors to the non-profit clinic network) yet to be determined, and to pay more than $118,000 to the IRS.
Mr. Espada had faced as much as a 7+ years in prison, under non-binding federal guideless. But he requested probation, citing health-care advocacy work in poor communities. As a matter of fairness, during the sentencing Judge Block acknowledged this. “I do credit the good you’ve done in the community, and the good deeds you’ve done in your past life.”
After a two-week deliberation, a jury had convicted Mr. Espada of four counts of theft. However, it had been unable to reach a consensus on several charges – including additional counts of theft, fraud and conspiracy. To resolve the case, Espada pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges, a move some thought to be a gesture of good will on his part.
But during the two-hour long sentencing hearing Mr. Espada also made a last-ditch effort to introduce evidence, he asserted, that proved he’d been wronged. That was predictable – a piece of good defense counsel effort. But in a bizarre, almost erratic move – and despite his own counsel’s protests – Espada plunged ahead, asserting Judge Block was guilty of misconduct. In short, he accused the sentencing judge of tampering with the jurors before they had reached a verdict. He asked for a new trial.
Supported by affidavits from prosecutors, Judge Block was swift to address this allegation, rebutting the charge in court with evidence – phone records which showed he had been at home during the time is question; electronic logs which showed when he had actually entered the courthouse.
“There is so simply no way I could’ve spoken to the jurors, between the time they arrived and the time they reached their verdict,” the judge said.
Prosecutors requested Mr. Espada be taken into custody because, during trial and subsequent deliberation, he had previously contacted jurors, violating a court order regarding tampering. Judge Block ordered Espada – who had been free on bail – be sent immediately to jail after sentencing, denying him the days the judge usually provides to a defendant to get his or her affairs in order.
As Judge Block flatly stated to reporters after the sentencing: “I can’t trust him.”
Mr. Espada once represented the Bronx, as a Democrat, in the N.Y. State Senate in Albany. However, he may be best-remembered for “crossing the aisle” and voting with Republicans during what became known as the June 2009 “parliamentary coup” in Albany, when a Republican replaced a Democrat as majority leader.
The Brooklyn case is U.S. v. Espada, 10-cr-985, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn). The Manhattan case is U.S. v. Espada, 1:12-cr-00235, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).