Former State Senate power broker Pedro Espada was sentenced to 5 years in prison Friday for plundering his nonprofit Soundview health network, climaxing a decade of investigations that overshadowed his climb from poverty in the Bronx to the pinnacle of power in Albany.
Espada blew a kiss to his family as he was taken away by marshals after U.S. District Judge Frederic Block ordered the ex-politician immediately jailed.
"There is no question in my mind that throughout the years Mr. Espada's arrogance and sense of entitlement became palpable," Block said. " . . . He treated Soundview as his private piggy bank."
Espada, 59, was best known for a 2009 political burlesque in which his vote-switching shifted control of the Senate from Democrats to Republicans and briefly made him majority leader. He became the poster boy for complaints about rampant political corruption in Albany that has snared more than a dozen legislators in indictments or investigations.
A social worker and community organizer, Espada founded Soundview in the 1980s to provide health care to the poor in the Bronx. But he was convicted last year in Brooklyn federal court of using a credit card to bill the nonprofit for lobster and sushi dinners, home repairs and family outings. He later pleaded guilty to related tax charges as well.
This month, as sentencing neared, he asked for a new trial, procuring an affidavit from juror Luis Roman that claimed Block secretly visited jurors on the morning of their verdict last May and urged them to break a deadlock.
Block said phone and swipe card records prove he wasn't even in the courthouse that morning, and said the affidavit might have involved perjury. He asked prosecutors Friday to investigate.
Roman, who was in the courtroom, quickly left. "Nobody told me to lie," the juror told reporters. "It's been a year. I could be mistaken about the timing."
Federal sentencing guidelines called for Espada to receive between 70 and 87 months. In addition to 5 years in prison, Block ordered Espada to serve 100 hours of community service when he gets out, forfeit $368,088 and repay $118,531 to the IRS.
Prosecutors said Espada's life had been a pose to satisfy his greed.
"This case showed who Pedro Espada really is," said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. "A thief in a suit."
But Block said he was reducing the sentence to 60 months to recognize Espada for the good work Soundview did in the Bronx. The judge also credited him for all the money he spent on his family, which the judge said made him a rare Albany politician who didn't appear to have a mistress.
Espada, in his remarks, refused to take responsibility for the crimes, defiantly telling Block that he was still fighting for his liberty. He argued at trial that all the funds he received were authorized by the board of directors.
He called Soundview the centerpiece of his life's work and spoke of his desire to someday "make amends" to his wife, children and 11 grandchildren.
"I've been a lot of things," he told Block. "Right now I'm mostly a grandfather."