Espada Found Guilty of Stealing from Nonprofit Health Center

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May 14, 2012; Source: New York Times

Former New York State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr. has been found guilty on four counts of theft by a federal jury who ruled that Espada stole from the Bronx-based Soundview Health Center. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on additional charges of conspiracy, theft and fraud, so Judge Frederic Block declared a mistrial on those charges. After the verdict, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement labeling Espada “the prime example of government corruption.”

The trial began with contrasting portraits of Espada, with the prosecution painting him as a greedy criminal and his defense lawyer portraying him as a veritable champion of nonprofit health care, and those opposing depictions continued throughout. At one point, Espada defense lawyer Susan Necheles asked a witness if Espada was “like the puppet master” with the board of the nonprofit, as the board approved a severance package for Espada that could have ranged up to $7 million, and allowed Espada to put personal expenses on Soundview’s credit card, some of which were apparently “reimbursed” by Espada in unused vacation time.

Largely lost in all of the media frenzy surrounding the Espada trial is the Soundview Health Center itself, which serves approximately 25,000 people a year in an area that has a high demand for affordable health care services. The Cuomo administration has sought to expel the center from the state’s Medicaid rolls, which would most likely lead to its closure, but Soundview is trying to get that decision overturned and an appellate judge has granted a stay while the case is heard, meaning Soundview’s doors can remain open at least until September.

However, Soundview says that it is no longer receiving some Medicaid reimbursements despite the stay from the court, and a security guard at the clinic told the Wall Street Journal that some patients were being directed to a nearby hospital emergency room for care. “I don’t know where else to go,” said one mother who unsuccessfully sought medical treatment for her asthmatic son’s chest pains at Soundview.

Given Espada’s conviction, it appears that Soundview was not exactly running a tight ship, but in the ongoing tug-of-war between the clinic and the state, it looks like some Bronx residents may be suffering the consequences, caught in the crossfire of a battle that should not bear any relevance on their ability to receive medical treatment. –Mike Keefe-Feldman