Ex-Sen. Espada makes case for a new trial

Former state Senator Pedro Espada makes his way

Former state Senator Pedro Espada makes his way to Brooklyn Federal Court for sentencing. (Oct. 12, 2012) (Credit: Steven Sunshine)

Former state Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada on Monday accused the judge who supervised his theft trial of misconduct as he scrambled to forestall his scheduled sentencing in Brooklyn federal court on June 14.

Espada, 58, faces 70 months in prison under federal guidelines after being convicted last year of embezzling $500,000 from his nonprofit Soundview health clinic in the Bronx, and later pleading guilty to related tax fraud charges.

But he told reporters that he was seeking a new trial based on a polygraph test he passed and interviews with two jurors who revealed that U.S. District Judge Frederic Block urged the panel to break a deadlock in an unannounced visit to the jury room.

"People fought wars to honor our Constitution," said Espada, who was convicted on charges that he repeatedly used the clinic's money to eat at fancy restaurants. "This is not a fight for me. This is a fight for a fair trial."

Espada was convicted last May on the 11th day of jury deliberations, which jurors at the time said were acrimonious. His motion alleged that on the morning of the verdict, jurors informed Block for a second time that they were deadlocked, and that without disclosing the note the judge improperly visited the panel and urged them to reach an agreement.

Espada argued that he was entitled to a new trial or a delay in sentencing while more jurors were questioned to determine whether Block influenced them. He also asked to remove Block from the case, and asked to withdraw his guilty plea on the tax charges, saying it was influenced by the verdict.

Ironically, in transcripts of Espada's interviews with the two jurors, one said that Block visited the panel again after the verdict, telling them that he saw Espada as a mostly "law-abiding citizen" who had helped his community and deserved only a few months in prison.

Espada filed his motion without a lawyer. He said he couldn't afford one, but in separate papers defense lawyer Angel Cruz asked to be removed, saying he had strenuously advised Espada against making the allegations of judicial misconduct. Prosecutors had no comment. Block scheduled a hearing on the motion for Thursday.

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