U.S. District Judge Frederic Block of Brooklyn Thursday denied allegations that he improperly entered the jury room during deliberations to pressure the panel to break a stalemate in the embezzlement trial of former Bronx state Sen. Pedro Espada last year.
Espada, 59, who is due to be sentenced by Block on June 14 for stealing money from his nonprofit Soundview health clinic, accused the judge of misconduct in a motion for a new trial filed this week, which he said was based on interviews with at least two jurors.
But at a hearing Thursday, Block said he hadn't even arrived in court on the morning of May 14, when Espada claims the judge spoke to jurors, and was at home when his clerk notified him the jury had reached a partial verdict at 10:30 a.m.
"I said 'I'll get dressed in a hurry,' " the judge said. " 'Just have everyone wait and I'll get to the courthouse.' "
Block gave Espada until Monday to decide if he wants to withdraw the motion, and said he may ask another judge to hear the motion if Espada wants to pursue it. He also told Espada he would not let the allegation affect his sentence "one iota."
Espada, whose son is also scheduled to be sentenced by Block, told reporters he would have to take his family into account in deciding whether to withdraw the motion, but said he didn't believe Block.
"Basically, the government is teaming up with the judge at this point," he said. ". . . I heard him. I believe the jurors. He was there."
Onetime Senate majority leader Espada was convicted of stealing $500,000 from Soundview by charging personal expenses and diverting rents, and pleaded guilty to a tax charge. He faces 70 to 87 months in prison under sentencing guidelines.