Thursday, April 22, 2010

FBI, IRS Agents Raid Pedro Espada Jr.'s Soundview HealthCare Network One Day After Corruption Charge by Kenneth Lovett - NY Daily News

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Federal agents swooped in on Pedro Espada Jr.'s Bronx health clinic Wednesday, a day after state lawmen accused him of looting $14 million in taxpayer money meant for the poor.

A team of FBI and IRS agents, along with investigators from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office, began raiding the offices of Soundview HealthCare Network on White Plains Road about 7 a.m.

They used bolt cutters to get into two trailers behind the building and began toting out white file boxes, some marked "payroll" and others labeled "time sheets."

After sifting through the materials in a rear parking lot for eight hours, the agents loaded more than 30 boxes into a blue Ford Econoline minivan and left.

As the raid played out, passing motorists honked in celebration and yelled out, "Lock him up!" and "It's about time!"

"He's a crook," said patient Muriel Moreno, 48, who said she was appalled at Cuomo's accusation that Espada used clinic money for vacations, restaurant bills and campaign expenses - and padded the staff with relatives.

"These are poor people. He's using us to get away with illegal acts," she said.

Espada, who was excused for the day from the legislative session in Albany, called the charges against him "false and unfounded" and declared himself proud to have given his sons jobs.

He claimed Cuomo installed cameras outside his house and offices "to catch every movement of myself, my neighbors and family."

He called the clinic raid a "media show" and said Cuomo was "trying to create the impression of wrongdoing where there is no wrongdoing."

And while Espada has claimed the probe was payback for his involvement in a Senate leadership coup last summer, The News had reported a month earlier that Cuomo was preparing an investigation into the senator.

As the Daily News reported Wednesday, Cuomo's investigation is proceeding jointly with Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell. Possible charges include mail fraud, wire fraud, theft of government funds and conspiracy.

"This was not the private playground of Mr. Espada. These were public funds," Cuomo said. "These funds were to go to provide for needy people."

Espada's clinic, which opened 30 years ago to serve the indigent, remained open during the raid. Few patients mourned the state Senate majority leader's fall.

"He's a bottom feeder. I'm glad [federal agents] are here, because we need this place clean," said longtime patient Vernelle Jenkins, 69.

Fidel Calero, 59, who said the clinic treats his diabetes even when he can't always pay, was among those worried it might be shuttered.

"No matter what Espada's doing on his own, this place is good for the community," he said.

In Albany, a number of pols said Espada should step down as state Senate majority leader, a post that gives him little power but plenty of perks, including a large office suite and a big staff.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn said he has has no intention of forcing Espada out over a civil matter.