Race Defense Fails for “Political Piñata” Senator Sentenced to 5 Years
A corrupt politician who desperately played the race card to fend off criminal charges will serve five years in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars earmarked to fund healthcare for the poor.
The one-time majority leader of the New York State Senate, Democrat Pedro Espada Jr., has been embroiled in a major political scandal for years and finally got convicted last May for stealing wads of cash from the nonprofit healthcare network he founded. A mainstream newspaper story of the 2012 conviction referred to Espada as “one of the most glaring examples of endemic corruption in Albany.”
The Bronx lawmaker illegally funneled money from his network of nonprofit health clinics to a for-profit business that enriched him and financed his political campaign, according to court documents filed by New York’s Attorney General in 2010. State officials provided evidence that Estrada financed his 2008 Senate campaign with siphoned public funds and that he committed fraud and violated state laws regulating elections, nonprofits and labor.
For months Espada dodged subpoenas and records requests, assuring he was innocent and rather the victim of a “witch hunt” driven by political ambitions. In fact, the disgraced lawmaker actually accused the New York Attorney General investigating him of using the state’s highest ranking Hispanic official (at the time Espada) as a personal political piñata.
At his sentencing hearing this month Espada repeated the same old sad story, that he was a victim of persecution, according to a local news report. This time he accused the judge of improperly influencing the jury that convicted him last year. The panel deliberated for two weeks before convicting Espada and was unable to reach verdicts on several other charges, including fraud, theft and conspiracy.
Espada’s troubles actually go back decades. In the mid 1990s he was punished for election fraud, in 2002 he was caught transferring state money to his clinics, which paid him more than $200,000 a year, and in 2004 several of his employees pleaded guilty to using clinic funds to finance Espada’s political campaign.
In 2011 the dethroned legislator came under fire for creating a special senate job—that paid a handsome $120,000 a year—for one of his sons. The other son made a chunk of change running the family’s taxpayer-funded clinics for the poor. One of the sons also got convicted for his role in pop’s illicit enterprise and is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.