Thursday, March 29, 2012

Espada’s ‘tax-$$’ party time

Used tax $$: aide

Last Updated: 9:18 AM, March 29, 2012

Posted: 12:35 AM, March 29, 2012

“Happy birthday, my sweetheart” — and screw you, Mr. Taxpayer!

Former state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. got all teary-eyed yesterday as his former girl Friday told jurors how he looted a nonprofit charity’s coffers to pay for a big birthday bash and presents for his wife in 2008.

Asked how she felt about Espada, ex-secretary Norma Ortiz said, “Like he was my brother.”

At that, Espada’s eyes welled and he put his face in his hands in Brooklyn federal court.

Despite her still-warm feelings, Ortiz, 67, provided damning testimony against her former boss, including revelations that on April 17, 2008, Espada’s wife, Connie, received a $522.95 spa-treatment gift card paid with the American Express card of Soundview Health Care Network, the Espada-controlled and taxpayer-funded nonprofit.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Pedro Espada Jr. (above) funded his wife’s party using taxpayer funds, his former aide testified.
Gregory P. Mango

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:
Pedro Espada Jr. (above) funded his wife’s party using taxpayer funds, his former aide testified.

On the card, the former Senate majority leader lovingly wrote, “Happy birthday, my sweetheart. Love you always and forever.”

“I made the [spa] reservation,” Ortiz said.

“The senator asked me. I wouldn’t make it up on my own to send her to the spa.”

Espada and his son, Pedro Gautier Espada, are on trial for allegedly embezzling more than $500,000 from the clinic and a cleaning company they controlled.

Espada also ran up a $959.32 charge at Zales jewelers to pay for a silver watch as a present for Connie, charged another $1,979 for the birthday party that night at the Harbor Restaurant on City Island, and ordered a dozen peach-colored roses in a vase delivered to the Espada residence that morning at a cost of $76.

All those charges and more were made on Soundview’s AmEx card or with a check from Soundview, Ortiz testified.

Ortiz’s testimony bolstered prosecutors’ claims that Espada routinely embezzled money from the government-supported Soundview health charity to fund his and his family’s lifestyle.

Ortiz, testifying with a promise of immunity, admitted closing down the HIV clinic operated by Soundview on Election Day so that workers could act as poll-watchers for Espada’s campaign, and said that she did other campaign work for him on Soundview’s time.

Asked if she has pictures of Espada in her home, Ortiz wept as she said yes. Espada then slammed his hand down on the defense table.

As he stalked out of court, Espada fumed: “These people are morally decrepit!

“To brutalize a woman like that is beyond the pale.”

dan.mangan@nypost.com

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