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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cuomo Investigating Espada; Senator Calls it a 'Witch Hunt'

On Friday, Pedro Espada, Jr.  announced a push to increase the cap on charter schools. Today, he's fending off allegations from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of Espada)

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office says it has discovered "extensive evidence" of illegal activities by State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. involving his nonprofit Soundview Healthcare Network and a private for-profit management company he created, according to court paper filed in New York Supreme Court today. 

The court papers are basically a "motion to compel" Espada to produce a number of documents related to Cumo's investigation, which was launched earlier this year. Cuomo subpoenaed a host of documents on Aug. 25, but his office says Espada has failed to produce many of them.

So, just to be clear, no charges have been filed against Espada. But this is a pretty big precursor to potential charges.

The Daily Politics blog has a good summary of court papers and you can read them for yourself after the jump.

The controversial Bronx pol, who is no stranger to investigations and/or allegations of illegal or improper behavior, responded in a statement, saying the Cuomo investigation is "witch hunt" and that he's already complied by sending "tens of thousands of documents" the A.G. has requested. "This is an Andrew Cuomo witch-hunt driven by his political ambitions, as evidenced in the fact that our attorneys had to learn of this complaint through the media," Espada in his statement.

Regardless, Cuumo wants more and he will probably need it if he wants to come up with something that sticks on Espada. The "Teflon Don" of New York politics, Espada has narrowly escaped serious legal punishment several times in the past.

In a nutshell, Cumo is trying to prove that Espada illegally funneled money from his nonprofit health care network into his most recent campaign, which propelled him back into the state senate. Ironically, he unseated Efrain Gonzalez who pleaded guilty last summer to illegally funneling state money back into his own pockets.

Cuomo's office claims that Espada set up a for-profit management company and then awarded that company a $400,000-a-year janitorial contract through the Soundview Health Care Network, which he founded and is president and CEO of. He then used at least a portion of that money to campaign expenses.

The court filing note that this scenario is similar to the one that landed four of Espada's employees in prison in 2005. Those employees pleaded guilty to "diverting monies and grants to pay campaign expenses for Espada." It also notes that Soundview paid the legal fees for those employees, "which may also be a violation of the not-for-profit law and is currently under investigation."

Here's the court filing in its entirety:

A.G.'s Espada Court Filing

Here's Espada's full response:

“This is nothing new, just an angry, frustrated response by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whom we have already provided with tens of thousands of documents he has requested, and will continue to do so. This is an Andrew Cuomo witch-hunt driven by his political ambitions, as evidenced in the fact that our attorneys had to learn of this complaint through the media. This is nothing more than a long-standing pattern and history of Andrew Cuomo running roughshod, whether over H. Carl McCall or David Paterson, and now using me, the state’s highest- ranking Hispanic elected official, as his personal political piñata. I will not be distracted by this and will continue to focus on creating jobs, controlling government spending, providing tax relief, strengthening ethics reform and improving education for our children on behalf of the state's 19.5 million residents.”


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