Thursday, July 23, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Espada fails to report posh fund-raiser at upscale restaurant Sofrito

Thursday, July 23rd 2009, 4:00 AM

Monaster/News

Chef Ricardo Cardona prepares paella at midtown restaurant Sofrito, which hosted a 'free' fund-raiser for Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. (below)

Glitzy midtown restaurant Sofrito offers upscale paella for $1,000 a plate - and free gifts for Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. that he failed to report.

Espada filed campaign finance reports with the state this week that didn't mention the fancy East Side bistro threw him a free fund-raising party in March.

The cost of food and drink is considered an in-kind contribution from the restaurant - but it didn't show up on financial disclosure forms Espada filed Monday.

Blair Horner of the nonpartisan New York Public Interest Research Group said Espada's omission raises a red flag.

"He has to report the value of the in-kind contribution that is whatever the restaurant would normally charge for a political fund-raiser," Horner said.

"There is no defense for this information not being filed. If there is a pattern [of nondisclosure], the attorney general could get involved."

Donors said the Sofrito event was held to raise money and introduce Espada to the real estate community because he was the new chairman of the Senate Housing Committee.

Restaurant manager Evelyn Rivera confirmed the gift, minimizing its value by saying only 25 people attended.

"We had all intentions of charging them but we kind of felt bad charging them," she said, claiming she intended to charge Espada $15 a person for drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

"We supplied the alcohol," she said. "Beer and wine. Well, beer. There were two, three empanadas, just two or three."

One donor who attended estimated there were 150 to 200 people there that night.

"I am frankly somewhat embarrassed that I went," said the donor, who asked to remain anonymous. The donor and a colleague contributed $500 to Espada's campaign.

Another donor recalled leaving a check for at least $200 and was annoyed he never got to meet Espada. His contribution was not reported on Espada's financial disclosure forms, either.

Espada's election lawyer, Daniel Pagano, said not reporting Sofrito's "gift" was "an oversight" and promised an amended filing.

On the forms filed for Espada in Albany, there was only one donation dated March 5 - the day of the Sofrito fund-raiser - and 17 for the whole month of March. Espada reported raising $150,000 from January through June.

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