Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's hits keep coming. Last week it was financier Steve Rattner, Quadrangle (the private-equity firm), and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli finding themselves at the unwelcome center of a bombshell Cuomo announcement. Today it is State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. and nineteen cronies, who are the targets of an investigation by the crusading AG and soon-to-be gubernatorial candidate. Cuomo's latest conference call announced the filing of a civil suit against the Bronx Democrat, charging the entertainingly slippery Espada with "looting" $14 million from the Soundview health-clinic network.
The core of the charges are depressingly simple: that Espada funneled federal and state money to Soundview, then controlled its distribution through the board of directors he installed for its loyalty; some board members, Cuomo says, doubled as members of Espada's Senate staff, others as Espada's relatives. There are plenty of colorful headline-ready touches, too, including a $9 million Espada severance package that allegedly rewarded him two years of salary for every one year Espada ran Soundview, and $20,000 in sushi delivered to Espada's Mamaroneck residence. Yes, a state senator representing the Bronx has a Mamaroneck residence, but that's the subject of another investigation. Espada has lately been preemptively denying all wrongdoing, but he hasn't commented yet on today's case.
The case is just as intriguing for what it leaves out: criminal charges, and any mention of Espada's son Pedro G. Espada, who has been intimately involved in his father's political and private careers. Cuomo was vague about the reasons for filing only civil charges now, citing "sequenced legal strategy," promising that the investigation continues, and dangling the likelihood of a criminal case "down the road." But the scale and details of these civil charges are plenty problematic for Espada, and they're likely to throw the State Senate into greater turmoil, with the Republicans demanding Espada's demotion or ouster. Democrats will be in the painful position of defending Espada in an election year to preserve their current fragile two-vote majority.
"We talk about dysfunction in Albany," Cuomo said. "It is matched only by the lack of integrity in Albany." Hmmm. Sounds like a state government in need of a new, incorruptible chief executive.