Espada and Son Prep for Trial in Brooklyn
Opening Arguments Expected Today
By Colleen Long
CADMAN PLAZA EAST — As ex-lawmaker Pedro Espada Jr. prepares for a federal trial in Brooklyn today on embezzlement charges, the beleaguered Bronx health care clinics he founded are fighting to stay open to serve some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.
Espada and his son have been accused of pilfering state grants directed to the Soundview Health Center to pay for — among other things — tickets for Broadway shows, a down payment on a Bentley and a pony for a birthday party. The lavish spending of more than $500,000 also included tickets for sporting events and concerts, posh restaurant tabs and a petting zoo, federal prosecutors said.
Opening arguments are likely to begin today in Brooklyn federal court. Last week, a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York, in Downtown Brooklyn, split off charges in the indictment related to tax return fraud and ordered a separate trial on those charges in the Southern District of New York, in Manhattan. It’s not clear when that trial would be held.
Espada, who was at the center of the two most tumultuous years in the history of the New York state Senate, has described the 2010 indictment by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as a political “witch hunt.” The scandal cost him his Senate seat.
Espada started the Soundview HealthCare Network in 1978 in the South Bronx, which is located in one of the poorest counties in the U.S. In the past three decades, the clinic grew to include four centers that provide health care and social services. His son, Pedro Gautier, 38, grew up to run the business with his father.
The shock over the charges stem in part from accusations of Espada and his son living lavishly on money meant for the poor.
The health network has more than 100,000 patient visits annually and more than 200 people work there. But in August, the state Department of Health terminated the clinic’s participation in Medicaid, the government-administered health care program for low-income people. The move affected the majority of clinic patients.
The health department said it would work to ensure participants would get proper medical care elsewhere.
The department said in statement that the heath care network didn’t have a plan required by law, but also noted the Medicaid program was managed by Espada and his son.
“There’s a horrible injustice being done here, and it’s against the patients who come to these clinics,” said Rachel Fasciani, a spokeswoman for Soundview. “If you are poor, and you have five kids, it’s not really a reality to go over the Bruckner (bridge) with all your kids to see a doctor. You need access near your home.”
Last week, a Bronx judge allowed the clinics to continue Medicaid until at least April 16, when Soundview lawyers will file an appeal. In the meantime, Fasciani said, they’re working on alternatives so patients wouldn’t have to go elsewhere.
“Our hope is they will rule for us, the reality is we are the only health care provider in this area,” she said.
The area encompasses the neighborhoods of Soundview and Castle Hill and at least nine public housing developments, including the Bronxdale Houses where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor lived. (They have since been renamed for her.)
Fasciani called the Medicaid issue a “vendetta” against the Espadas and said Soundview patients have been collateral damage.
Espada said he had no comment ahead of trial. His attorney, Susan Necheles, has said both father and son deny any wrongdoing and plan to fight the charge in court. “Soundview has provided high-quality health care to thousands of families, children and senior citizens in the Bronx,” she said.
Espada followed a string of Albany politicians who were indicted in office, so many that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed an ethics enforcement overhaul. Espada lost the primary election for his seat in September 2010.
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