Last Updated: 6:43 AM, April 6, 2012
Posted: 2:04 AM, April 6, 2012
Bronx political powerhouse Pedro Espada Jr. ate like a pig and stuck his publicly funded nonprofit with the big bills, federal prosecutors claimed yesterday while unloading a blizzard of restaurant receipts to detail the former state senator’s largess at the taxpayers’ expense.
Those checks show how Espada and his wife had a penchant for chardonnay and bottled San Pellegrino water — no mere tap water for them — to wash down shrimp scampi, Atlantic salmon, lamb, veal and chicken wings they had ordered at eateries in New York City and Westchester.
He even once dropped $230 for a single bottle of Dom Perignon champagne during a cozy dinner for two at Yonkers Raceway in October 2007.
And Espada paid for it all with an American Express card from the government-funded, tax-exempt Soundview Health Care Network that he ran — and which the then-state senator allegedly never reimbursed for the clearly personal meals scarfed down by himself, wife Connie and other relatives.
“They sat at the same table every week,” testified Stephen White, manager of the Empire Terrace restaurant at the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway, describing Espada and his wife’s regular dinners at a prime table directly overlooking the harness track.
“That’s on the front row, by the glass [window],” White helpfully told jurors in Brooklyn federal court — where Espada and his son Pedro Gautier Espada are on trial for embezzlement from Soundview and a related for-profit cleaning company.
A jaw-dropping spreadsheet put together by prosecutors shows that from August 2007 through July 2009, the politician used Soundview’s corporate AmEx card for 46 meals at the raceway’s restaurants.
The total of those meals: $5,129.96.
But Espada didn’t limit his grazing on the taxpayer’s dime to Yonkers, according to other evidence presented yesterday.
Six other restaurant managers detailed Espada’s appetite for drinking and dining at the nonprofit corporate trough and his preferred method of using Soundview’s credit card to pay for it all — a practice that soon could have him dining on prison slop.
Prosecutors introduced AmEx charges from five Espada dinners in 2008 at the Lobster House on City Island — for a total of $1,303.84.
One of those feasts — a dinner for nine on Sept. 13, 2008 — cost $451.74, including a $70 tip.
It featured twin grilled lobster tails, shrimp scampi, paella, a “crab combo,” a cheeseburger deluxe with bacon, as well as a vodka martini, Corona beer, soda and a glass of Hennessy cognac, a Lobster House receipt showed.
Video by Rafael Martínez Alequín
Peter Chen, owner of two restaurants in Mamaroneck — Toyo Sushi and Red Plum — testified about Espada, “Yes, I recognize his name.”
“He’s been a good customer for a while,” said Chen, noting that Espada and his wife came in “at least once or twice a week.”
Asked if his restaurants ever delivered food to Espada’s house, Chen said, “One of my delivery guys, yes.”
Asked by a prosecutor if he would also consider Espada a “good customer,” Michael Lai, manager of Haiku Asian Bistro in Mamaroneck, answered, “I’d say so.”
“He’s just like any other good customer,” said Lai, adding that he recalls the Espadas dining with “some little kids.”
“The times I remember, he came in with his family.”
Padding out those dinner bills were routinely steep tips that Espada freely lavished on waiters — which, like the meals, were charged on the company credit card.
In July 2008, he tacked on a $40 tip to a $49.19 meal at the Yonkers racino — a generous 81 percent gratuity.
For another meal there, in February 2009, he left a $20 tip — or 39 percent — on a $50.67 check.
Not all of Espada’s tips were that high — but nearly all of them on the receipts revealed yesterday were well in excess of 20 percent.
All of these bills — and allegedly tens of thousands of dollars worth of others — were paid by the publicly funded Soundview.
In related testimony yesterday, R&B singer Beverly Crosby, who spent a decade on Soundview Health Care’s board of directors before resigning last year, was asked if she knew that Espada used the nonprofit’s funds to pay for meals with his family.
“No, I did not,” said Crosby. “That would concern me,” she said, adding that the money should have been spent on Soundview.
But Crosby said she would have minded if she had known — as prosecutors claim — that Espada was going to make more than $100,000 in profit from a deal in which a cleaning company he controlled won a janitorial contract from Soundview.
“That’s a lot of money,” she said.
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