Former State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada blasted federal prosecutors as "morally decrepit" Wednesday after his longtime personal secretary was forced to testify tearfully about his billing of personal expenses to the nonprofit Soundview health network.

The Bronx politician's former secretary, Norma Ortiz, 67, entered court under subpoena and using a walker. Despite a grant of immunity from the prosecution, she spent the day complaining she was "sick" and "terrified" of going to jail and changing her answers about Espada's role in improper bills.

At the end of her testimony, both prosecutor Carolyn Pokorny and U.S. District Judge Fredric Block asked Ortiz, "Would you do anything to protect Mr. Espada?" Ortiz answered both, "What do you mean 'anything'?"

Espada, who is charged with plundering more than $500,000 from his government-subsidized chain of Bronx health clinics by charging personal expenses and other schemes, pounded on a table and wagged his finger at the prosecution at one point during Ortiz's questioning.

"These people are morally decrepit," Espada said as he left the courtroom at the end of the day. "To brutalize a woman like that is beyond the pale."

Espada, 58, and his son Pedro Gautier Espada, 38, face up to 65 years in prison each if convicted on conspiracy and theft charges. The trial in federal court in Brooklyn is in its third week.

Ortiz, who worked for Espada for 23 years, testified that expenses she processed for payment by Soundview included more than $2,000 for a 2008 birthday bash for Espada's wife, Connie, a $522 spa gift certificate to her with the message, "Happy Birthday, My Sweetheart," and a $166 receipt for a Friday night meal he submitted as a "nutrition workshop."

She testified, however, that staff parties and gift giving were part of the "family culture" at Soundview that she tried to create as a senior employee. She said she never thought Espada's expenses were out of the ordinary or questioned them.

"It wasn't my place," she said. "You don't question your boss."

At or near tears for much of the day, Ortiz shifted ground repeatedly on Espada's culpability -- changing her testimony on one item after prosecutors spoke to her lawyer over the lunch break, and reversing course twice on another.

She first testified that Espada ordered her to have his grandchild's birthday party described as a "community outreach" event on a videographer's invoice. But on cross-examination she told Espada's lawyer she ordered the change on her own. She then repeated the cycle, telling a prosecutor it was in fact Espada, and then telling Espada's lawyer that it wasn't.

"I'm nervous," she said finally, "and my mind is somewhere else."

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