Former State Senate power broker Pedro Espada Jr. faces a likely sentence of at least 70 months in prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud Friday and agreeing not to appeal his May conviction for looting the nonprofit Soundview health network he ran in the Bronx.
The events climaxed a series of law enforcement investigations dating back a decade into the boss of a Bronx political empire who became a poster child for Albany's dysfunction and ethical lapses. "The Espada era is over," crowed a beaming U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch at a news conference outside federal court in Brooklyn.
But a chastened Espada insisted as he left court that the plea deal did not discredit his life's work.
"I'm still proud of the work I did in the Senate, I'm proud of the 30 years I spent providing health care in the Bronx, and I'm most proud of the fact that I have a loving family," said Espada as he led his wife, Connie, through a crush of cameras with the help of two bodyguards.
Espada, 58, was convicted in May of stealing $500,000 from Soundview by charging it for his personal expenses -- including cars, vacations and dozens of meals -- and by siphoning money into his janitorial firm. But the Brooklyn jury hung on two counts, and on all charges against his son, Pedro Gautier Espada, 38. The two men faced a retrial, and a trial on related tax charges in Manhattan.
Under yesterday's deal, Espada faces a maximum of 40 years in prison on the theft charges and 3 years for filing false tax returns in 2005. Federal sentencing guidelines call for him to get 70 to 87 months in prison, although the judge could go above or below that range.
Espada also is on the hook for more than $2 million in fines and restitution. His son was allowed to plead to two misdemeanors -- a tax charge, and a charge of improperly diverting federal funds from Soundview.
Although Espada lived in a suburban spread in Mamaroneck, he had long claimed a Bronx residence to be eligible for his Senate seat. The tax charge he pleaded guilty to, prosecutors said, included an allegation that he understated his income by falsely claiming for tax purposes that the Bronx house was his primary residence, when it wasn't.
Standing erect before U.S. District Judge Fredric Block, Espada entered his plea in a loud, clear voice, and told the judge that the most difficult part of the deal was his agreement to not appeal his conviction for stealing from the health center that he founded as a young community organizer and built his political empire on.
"That was the biggest part of the discussion," he said. "I am clear. I accept that."
Although Espada staunchly insisted he was innocent until Friday, he had expressed concern about massive legal bills for two more trials. The deal did not require him to admit to stealing from Soundview -- only to drop his appeal -- and limited the exposure of his son, who faces up to 24 months on his two misdemeanor pleas.
Espada, whose sentencing was set for Feb. 22, told reporters he was "relieved" to have the weight of legal proceedings lifted.
"We have accepted responsibility," he said, "and are moving on with our lives."