Last Updated: 3:48 AM, March 21, 2012
Posted: 1:00 AM, March 21, 2012
Add “puppet master” to Pedro Espada Jr.’s many titles.
The former state Senate majority leader manipulated the board of directors of a Bronx nonprofit like a pro — changing official records, getting a huge boost in severance and permission to use a shady system for paying expenses, a former employee testified yesterday.
“He was like the puppet master?” asked Espada’s own defense lawyer, Susan Necheles, at the former Bronx pol’s embezzlement trial in Brooklyn federal court.
Prosecution witness Maria Cruz replied, “That’s correct — that’s what I’m saying.”
Cruz testified last week that Espada loaded the staff and board of his nonprofit Soundview Healthcare Network with family and friends — enabling him to allegedly loot the clinic of more than $500,000 to pay for lavish personal expenses such as sushi dinners and spa treatments.
Yesterday, the ex-Soundview personnel boss testified that Espada — who did not attend board meetings — would personally edit those meetings’ minutes afterward, before they were submitted to the federal government, Soundview’s main source of funds.
“What was said was taken down, and the meeting’s minutes were given to Pedro Espada for review, and he made whatever changes he thought, and then they were distributed,” Cruz testified.
She also testified that in 1989, Espada’s originally agreed-upon severance package called for him to be paid one month’s salary for each year worked at Soundview.
But by 2005, the board had voted to jack up that package, to one year’s salary for each year worked — up to a mind-boggling $7 million, just $2 million less than Soundview’s annual income.
Later, Cruz recounted an incident in which Soundview financial executive Ken Brennan was “upset” as he demanded that Espada’s secretary explain whether a $300 charge on the pol’s Soundview credit card was for a personal or business expense.
Afterward, Espada said, “I don’t know why he’s making such a fuss. I paid for my personal expenses on the card with accrued time,” Cruz recalled.
In other words, Cruz said, Soundview’s board allowed Espada to reimburse the charity for personal expenses on the card by forgoing accrued vacation time — not by paying back the cash.
Espada and his son Pedro Gautier Espada are on trial for allegedly embezzling from Soundview and another company between 2005 and 2009.
Meanwhile, Necheles suffered a second day of tongue-lashing from Judge Fredric Block, who repeatedly indicated he was frustrated by delays in her handling documents and exhibits.
“Let’s move on, c’mon!” Block barked.
[Pedro Espada] was like the puppet master?
— Defense lawyer Susan Necheles
That’s correct — that’s what I’m saying.
— Witness Maria Cruz (left), the former personnel director at Soundview Healthcare