Judge refuses to jail ex-lawmaker Espada

Pedro Espada Jr. walks out of Brooklyn Federal

Pedro Espada Jr. walks out of Brooklyn Federal Court House in Brooklyn. (May 14, 2012) (Credit: Jason Andrew)

A federal judge on Friday refused to jail former State Senate power broker Pedro Espada for allegedly siphoning more money from the nonprofit Soundview health center he was convicted of looting in May, saying he wasn't convinced the behavior violated court orders.

"I agree with you this thing has an odor to it," Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Frederic Block told prosecutors frustrated by Espada's quick grab of chunks of cash from Soundview's $600,000 sale of its assets to another nonprofit. "I agree with you. But I have to apply the law."

Although Block ordered both sides to file more arguments by next Friday and took steps to move up Espada's sentencing, the ex-senator from the Bronx left court beaming and flashing a "V" sign to reporters.

Espada, 58, was convicted of stealing nearly $500,000 from Soundview, the Bronx health network he controlled, by charging personal expenses and diverting money. He faces up to 40 years in prison, but has not yet been sentenced pending a retrial of charges the jury could not resolve, and a separate tax trial in Manhattan.

After his conviction, Block ordered him to not participate in Soundview's affairs. Prosecutors this week revealed that his son Alejandro, who took over, distributed more than $350,000 to Espada, his family, companies they control, and his lawyer.

They said the payments, some of which were quickly converted to cash and withdrawn, showed that Espada was still pulling the strings at Soundview. "Have you ever seen a victim pay the thief?" said prosecutor Carolyn Pokorny as she asked Block to jail the ex-senator for violating the order.

But the judge said his order wasn't very precise about what Espada could and couldn't do, faulted prosecutors for not insisting on a more precise order, and said he wasn't convinced it was violated. "It doesn't necessarily follow that where there's smoke there's fire," he said.

Block said he will hold another hearing after both sides file papers, and give prosecutors a chance to call witnesses. The judge also ordered probation officials to begin preparing a pre-sentence report on Espada.

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