Thursday, January 14th 2010, 4:00 AM
It's increasingly obvious that state Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada is a taxpayer-fleecing, subpoena-ducking con artist.
If Senate Democrats want any credibility as ethics reformers, they need to strip him of his lofty title and privileges. Unless and until that happens, they're guilty of harboring a fugitive.
Cuomo says he has evidence that Espada illegally siphoned money from his chain of nonprofit health clinics into a for-profit business he owned, which in turn he used to finance his 2008 Senate campaign. If the AG is right, this would mean Espada was lining his own pockets - and advancing his political career - with tax dollars meant to provide health care for the poor.
If that weren't bad enough, Espada is also stonewalling Cuomo by refusing to comply with subpoenas - after vowing full cooperation, of course.
That behavior alone justifies the Dems dumping him as majority leader.
Meanwhile, Espada remains in hot water for allegedly lying on grant applications to the state Health Department, for living in Westchester County instead of his Bronx district, for violating campaign finance laws - and the list goes on.
Those are just the pending probes. To review:
In 1996, he was punished for election fraud.
In 2002, during a previous Senate stint, he was caught funneling state money to his own clinics, which at the time were paying him more than $200,000 a year.
In 2004, three of his employees pleaded guilty to using clinic funds to finance (you guessed it) Espada's political campaign.
Clearly, this guy cannot help himself. But Senate Democrats can help themselves - if they undo the colossal mistake of putting a known crook in the upper echelons of their command.
Every day they tolerate him is another nail in their political coffins.