Updated 04/20/2010 07:59 PM
State Senate Leader Charged With Stealing From Bronx Non-Profit
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Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday a lawsuit against State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, charging that he and his family stole more than $14 million from his Bronx non profit.
The lawsuit alleges that for over five years, Espada "looted" the state- and federally-funded Comprehensive Community Development Corporation, also known as Soundview.
The organization was founded by Espada in 1978 with the purpose of providing health care to residents of the South Bronx.
Espada, who serves as the president and chief executive officer of the non-profit organization, is accused of diverting its charitable assets to his family, friends and his political operations.
The money was allegedly used for a wide variety of expenses including vacations, campaign bills and thousands of dollars in restaurant visits – many located in Westchester where critics charge Espada makes his primary residence. Funds were also allegedly used to pay the mortgage on Espada's Bronx apartment.
Nineteen current and former executives, which includes Espada's niece, daughter-in-law, boyfriend of his sister, two uncles and employees of the New York State Senate, were also named in the suit filed in New York State Supreme Court.
Cuomo says the majority leader packed the clinic's leadership with people who blindly followed his orders – and gave him an "extravagant" compensation package.
"This was not an independent objective board of directors; this was a packed board of directors filled with family or friends who Mr. Espada could control directly or indirectly," Cuomo said.
Cuomo's lawsuit aims to remove Espada and the officers of Soundview from the board. It also seeks to require Espada and Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Brennan to pay restitution and damages and attempts to nullify a $9 million severance package that Espada allegedly received.
Espada has repeatedly denied all charges and called the investigation politically motivated.
"It is clear to me the motivation behind all of this is simple political payback for what the establishment likes to call the senate coup," said Espada during a brief press conference Tuesday.
Cuomo says the investigation is still ongoing and criminal charges could be forthcoming.
While Espada’s senate colleagues declined to comment, his primary opponent this fall, Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, said in a statement, "The Attorney General’s complaint details a shameful story of an elected official taking resources from the community he represents - instead of bring[ing] resources to the community."