New York – A former New York senator, who ran a once-respected health care network, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for looting the taxpayer-subsidized clinics to pay for children's pony rides and other extravagances.
U.S. District Judge Frederic Block immediately jailed Pedro Espada Jr. rather than let him report to prison, citing evidence that he defied a court order to stay away from jurors after his trial. The judge also ordered him to forfeit more than $368,000.
Espada, who has called the case a "witch hunt," expressed no remorse at the sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn on embezzlement and tax fraud charges. He instead talked about Soundview Healthcare Network's legacy of providing medical care to needy New Yorkers.
"What I created was not a piggy bank but a lifeline to the community," he said.
Soundview closed last year after more than 30 years.
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Espada, who had been out of bail, blew a kiss to supporters as deputy U.S. marshals led him out of the courtroom.
Outside court, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch labeled Espada, 59, a "selfish man. A small man."
The sentencing culminated Espada's dramatic fall from prominence. After growing up poor in Puerto Rico and the South Bronx, he earned a law degree, founded Soundview and launched a successful political career as a Democrat with a reputation as a bold manipulator of Albany's old-boy power structure.
While still in the Senate in 2010, Espada was arrested on federal charges that he stole more than $500,000 to pay for lobster dinners, vacations and pony rides at a granddaughter's birthday party while letting Soundview's clinics go into decline.
A jury convicted Espada last year on four counts in the embezzlement case but deadlocked on four others. Espada later pleaded guilty to a separate tax fraud charge after prosecutors agreed not to retry him on the undecided counts.
The judge began Friday's sentencing by dismissing Espada's motion for a new trial. The defendant had based the request on a sworn statement he obtained from a juror at his trial, despite the judge's warning last week to stay away from jurors. The juror had claimed he was "100 percent" certain that the judge had entered the jury room to goad jurors into reaching a partial verdict.
The judge produced court and swipe card records showing that he wasn't in the courthouse at the time the juror insisted he had sought to influence deliberations. The judge called the allegations against him "absurd" and encouraged prosecutors to consider bringing a perjury case against Espada and the juror.
"There's simply no way I would have spoken to jurors," the judge said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who as attorney general had helped investigate Espada, said in a statement on Friday that the sentence "sends a clear and direct message that those who defraud this state's taxpayers will be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.