Hovering over this investigation are the three c’s -- cronyism, corruption and conspiracy. Espada denies he’s done anything wrong and blames his troubles on "simple political payback for what the establishment likes to call the Senate coup."
But the charges are stark. The Bronx politician is accused of using the health clinics he founded as his "personal piggy bank" -- diverting more than $14 million to himself, his family and his aides. Money from the network of non-profit health care clinics he started was used, according to the attorney general, for such things as meals, vacations and campaign expenses.
And Cuomo says that criminal charges are a "real possibility."
Once again, Albany seems to be running for the title of dysfunctional capital of America. The previous majority leader, Joe Bruno, is awaiting sentence on corruption charges. And Espada still occupies a major position in the Legislature. With Bruno, a Republican, and Espada, a Democrat, both in hot water, clearly in Albany hanky panky is a bi-partisan affair.
The public and the press know it -- and so do the honest legislators: Albany is a cesspool. Founded by Espada 30 years ago, the Soundview HealthCare Network, if the charges prove true, was more like an Espada Care Network. Espada even has a severance contract with the corporation that would pay him $9 million. That’s more than the charity has in available funds.
To use an old Bronx expression, having an arrangement like this takes real chutzpah!
In the chutzpah category are charges that he spent $20, 000 on sushi deliveries to his home in Mamaroneck. A corporate expense account he had was charged $450,000 for personal expenses. Agents from the FBI and the IRS have just raided the offices of the Soundview health network -- in search of more documents.
I asked Susan Lerner of Common Cause about the case. She said that, given the atmosphere in Albany, "it was absolutely inevitable."
If the charges prove true, Ms. Lerner said, it underlines the fact that "we have no ethics oversight whatever and we greatly need it. It’s a perfect example of what the current legislative oversight body doesn’t do."
There is a legislative commission on ethics but, Ms. Lerner points out, it does little or nothing. Ms. Lerner says strict oversight is needed and that the link between politicians and non-profit charities especially has to be scrutinized.
Espada deserted his party and joined the Republicans when they offered him a leadership job. Then the Democrats lured him to come back by giving him the majority leadership. Some fellow Democrats see Espada as a traitor but he says he’s been doing his duty right along. Espada’s part in the coup paralyzed the Senate for a month.
The Times warns that, "unless something changes soon, voters will have to throw out the whole crowd come November." The Daily News says Espada should be expelled from his leadership post and then ousted from the Senate.
Lest you think this is a new phenomenon, consider that, back in February, 1861, the Times carried an editorial denouncing a member of the Assembly who had been arrested for "having demanded a miserable bribe of $100 to cast his vote in favor of a particular measure!"
As the Times noted sarcastically 149 years ago: "We know not how to record the monstrous fact that a suspicion of corruption has been breathed against one of our state legislators, know not in what terms to break to the people of our city and state the sad tidings that a member of Assembly has been not only suspended but publicly accused and arrested."
The more the world changes the more it stays the same.