In Espada trial, it’s like comparing apples and ... sushi
By Adam Wisnieski
A bright red apple sat on the defense table in front of former State Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. as his attorney Susan Necheles stood before the jury next to a blown-up photo of the fruit.
“There’s something rotten about this case,” Ms. Necheles said.
During her summation last week, Ms. Necheles wrote things like “threats in the middle of the trial” and “threats in this courthouse” in black marker on top of the apple. She argued that during the U.S. Attorney’s exhaustive case against the former state Senator the government threatened witnesses into testifying.
After the end of summations on April 27, a seven-man, five-woman jury headed into deliberations on Monday to decide if the cast against Mr. Espada was, as Ms. Necheles argued, a bruised apple or a giant pile of sushi paid for with taxpayer money.
Mr. Espada stands accused of illegally paying for thousands of dollars in sushi using his Soundview American Express card.
The embezzlement trial began in a Brooklyn federal courthouse on March 14. Mr. Espada and his son are charged with stealing more than $550,000 from the taxpayer funded not-for-profit Soundview Healthcare Network. If convicted, they could both serve 15 years.
During the trial, government’s witness Norma Ortiz, a longtime aide to Mr. Espada, implicated her boss in a variety of illegal acts, including changing invoices and paying for personal items using his Soundview American Express card.
Mr. Espada’s attorney, Ms. Necheles, argues the U.S. Attorney’s Office bullied and threatened witness Norma Ortiz through her lawyers while she was on the stand. Ms. Ortiz, a longtime aide of Mr. Espada’s, was inconsistent in her testimony. She even blamed herself, not Mr. Espada, for pressuring a videographer into changing an invoice from a birthday party to a community event.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office countered in court that it approached Ms. Ortiz’s attorney during the trial to notify her she was in danger of perjuring herself.
Judge Frederick Block decided there was no foul play, but that the jury should take the alleged threats into account when determining the witness’ credibility.
KeywordsPedro Espada Jr., Susan Necheles, Adam Wisnieski, trial, crime, embezzlement, Soundview Healthcare Network