Pedro Espada is pleading poverty.
The one-time state Senate power broker who pulled down a six-figure salary from his Bronx-based Soundview health center told a federal judge Monday that he's going to need a taxpayer-funded lawyer to defend him on federal tax charges.
Espada, convicted this year of looting $500,000 from Soundview in Brooklyn federal court, told reporters later that he's been hit hard by the collapse of the taxpayer-subsidized nonprofit he headed and the cost of a private lawyer at the two-month Brooklyn trial.
"These things cost a great deal of money," Espada said. "The bottom line is I'm unemployed, and these are very expensive undertakings."
But U.S. District Judge William Pauley sharply questioned the ex-politician, who pulled down as much as $500,000 in salary and benefits at Soundview and owns a home in the leafy Westchester suburb of Mamaroneck.
Pauley, who will have to approve the request, said that in prior court appearances, Espada said he was looking for a lawyer and refused to answer questions about his finances when providing information to court pretrial services officers.
"He can't simply say he declines to answer, especially now that he's seeking to have the public pay," Pauley told Jeffrey Pittell, the lawyer he temporarily appointed to represent Espada at his arraignment in June. "I don't know what may have occurred to indicate that suddenly he qualifies."
Espada, whose privately retained lawyer in the Brooklyn case withdrew after trial, told Pauley that he had interviewed six law firms in an attempt to find representation. "He hasn't been able to find one who's quoted him a fee that he can afford," Pittell said.
Pittell said Espada's assets and liabilities were too complex for him to fill out a financial affidavit on the spot. Pauley set a hearing on the request for July 23.
Espada, 58, faces up to 40 years in prison on his May fraud convictions in Brooklyn. The jury deadlocked on two other counts and on six counts against his son, Pedro Gautier Espada. Both men face a retrial in Brooklyn federal court, as well as the tax case in Manhattan.
Pauley did approve a court-appointed public defender for Pedro Gautier Espada, a former executive at Soundview. The judge said he is now receiving unemployment benefits.