The fraud prosecution of former Bronx state Sen. Pedro Espada, who is accused of stealing from his nonprofit Soundview health clinic, is built on lying witnesses and is "rotten to its core," his lawyer charged on the second day of closing arguments Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn.
Defense attorney Susan Necheles said Espada had permission to charge expenses to the clinic, and accused prosecutors of going overboard in their elaborate five-week detailing of his lavish spending to try to "inflame" and distract the jury.
"So what if a kid who grew up homeless and lived in the projects and worked hard and supported his family . . . so what if he wanted to live the good life?" she said. "If you make your money on Wall Street and you can spend your money on a Bentley, what's wrong with doing it in the Bronx?"
Espada, 58, once the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, and his son, Pedro Gautier Espada, 38, are charged with looting more than $600,000 from Soundview by misusing the corporate American Express card, using a for-profit company they owned to overcharge for janitorial services and other schemes.
Espada's defense is that Soundview's board of directors -- which prosecutors say was packed with family members and cronies -- approved his actions under a contract that he says awarded him, in addition to a $200,000-plus salary, a "per diem" expense allotment and allowed him to charge personal expenses against accumulated vacation and sick time.
But Necheles, who will continue her summation Thursday, spent most of her two hours of argument Wednesday attacking the tactics of prosecutors, who, she said, presented witnesses they knew had lied or changed their stories.
At trial, she said, prosecutors had asked several witnesses about Soundview's cash problems, and suggested that Espada was spending money on perks that could have improved patient care. She said it was hypocritical for a government that chronically underfunds health care for the poor to try to lay that sin at Espada's feet.