Saturday, April 21, 2012

You paid $103,000 for Pedro’s fishy eats

You paid $103,000 for Pedro’s fishy eats


Last Updated: 5:06 AM, April 21, 2012

For a pig, he loves his sushi.
video by Rafael Martínez Alequín

Posted: 1:38 AM, April 21, 2012

Federal prosecutors laid out in devastating detail how disgraced Bronx pol Pedro Espada Jr. lavishly dined on the public dime, particularly at Japanese eateries.

He billed his publicly funded health clinic about $103,000 for meals between 2005 and 2009, including more than $20,000 for a staggering 214 visits to a single sushi restaurant.

He rang up another $63,000 in bills for nearly 400 meals at nine other eateries.

Representatives of all 10 restaurants have testified at Espada’s embezzlement trial in Brooklyn Federal Court that family members regularly dined with Espada — and tnone of the meals appeared to be business expenses.

The former state senator also had a thing about fruit baskets, say documents disclosed yesterday.

He charged his Soundview Healthcare Network $1,362.75 for 11 edible arrangements at meals over a 20-month period. Most went for birthday and Mother’s Day bashes for relatives.

But he also charged $96.45 for an Edible Arrangements birthday basket for state Sen. Hiram Monserrate in July 2009, a month after he and Monserrate formed a secret coalition with Republicans that temporarily took control of the state Senate.

But that gift basket was nothing compared to the $4,657.50 tab Espada ran up for fresh flowers, vases, balloons, teddy bears and other table displays and centerpieces.

For his wife Connie’s birthday in 2008, he charged $344 for vased pink roses and “balloon trees” plus $76 for a rose arrangement.

The spreadsheets revealed in court yesterday showed that Espada didn’t even drop his biggest bucks in his own North Bronx district. He preferred Westchester restaurants for 37 of 42 holiday bashes over a three-year spread.

That included $445.56 for Easter Sunday 2006 and $339.60 for Easter 2007 at Larchmont restaurants, $246.66 for a July 4, 2008, meal in White Plains, and $713.85 to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2009 in White Plains.

Espada was also allegedly double-billing. He received up to $160 a day in state Senate per-diem payments totaling $6,030 in early 2009, but also expensed $7,209.62 to Soundview for meals in Albany.

Espada’s legal team got their chance to start their defense yesterday — and it promptly blew up in their face.

Their first witness was Cynthia Prorok, a management consultant who audits community health-care centers for the US Health and Human Services Department.

But she testified that Soundview officials were highly reluctant to answer her questions about the center’s operation.

“It was a very tense environment. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife,” she said. “It was very controlled. It was like being in an episode of ‘The Sopranos.’ ”

The courtroom erupted in laughter, prompting Judge Frederic Block to warn, “Try to keep ‘The Sopranos’ out of the case.”

Assistant US Attorney Roger Burlingame asked Prorok what happened when she questioned Espada himself.

She said that when she asked about his unusually high salary and began to examine his personnel file, Espada ripped it out of her hand — so quickly it “caused my calculator to fly under the table.”

Burlingame also asked her whether it was “typical for community centers to have attorneys on staff,” as Soundview did.

“No. They need to spend every dollar they have to make sure people have adequate health care,” Prorok replied.

After the hearing, Espada seemed miffed about her “Sopranos” remark.

“It brings forth a certain ugliness that is the underbelly of this case,” he said.

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