New York, NY —
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is charging a civil suit that New York Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Junior looted more than $14 million from a South Bronx health network he founded. WNYC's Bob Hennelly has more.
REPORTER: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says Espada and his family systematically bilked the non-for-profit Soundview Healthcare Network that provides heath care for the poor to fund a lavish lifestyle and Espada's campaigns. He says the charity's board was stacked with Espada family and loyalists that granted him a substantial severance should he ever leave.
CUOMO: $14 million and a $9 million severance package would effectively bankrupt the organization. It is outrageous. It is outrageous.
REPORTER: In a defiant news conference in Albany, Espada dismissed the charges as a politically motivated reprisal for his defection last year to the Republican caucus.
ESPADA: The motivation behind all of this is simple political pay back for what the establishment likes to call the Senate coup.
REPORTER: In front of a busy Soundview Health Clinic in the South Bronx, a billboard depicts a larger than life and smiling Espada surrounded by community kids. Eighteen-year-old Christine Rodriguez is in a hurry but she stops to sing Espada's praises as a man she affectionately regards as "her president."
RODRIQUEZ: He's good, he's good. He takes care of the community.
REPORTER: But Espada has his local detractors. Senior Citizen Edwin Arroyo couldn't say enough positive about the Health Center, but he says it would be better if the money Espada is alleged to have diverted was actually invested in Soundview.
ARROYO: The gentleman's got enough money. What the hell more does he want?
REPORTER: The civil suit seeks restitution and the ouster of Espada and its board from Soundview. Cuomo says the investigation is ongoing and that he hasn't closed the door to a criminal prosecution.