Law and Favors in the Bronx

Secret Tapes Catch Pols Speaking Their Minds

Ramirez accused Espada of making "a cynical attempt to draw attention away from his ongoing criminal trial."

Espada's trial has been under way for two weeks—it will go to the jury on November 13, after a holiday break. But the usually talkative pol has been under a court-ordered gag rule. The tapes were not admitted into evidence, and Espada's top-notch lawyer, Fred Hafetz, has based his defense on campaign law, not political influence.

Prior to the trial, however, Hafetz sent Espada to a nationally renowned polygraph expert, Richard Arther, who administered two separate lie detector tests and found Espada to be truthful in his claims.

Pedro Espada Jr. taped Bronx Democratic Leader Roberto Ramirez and others talking about an investigation by District Attorney Robert Johnson.
Pedro Espada Jr. taped Bronx Democratic Leader Roberto Ramirez and others talking about an investigation by District Attorney Robert Johnson.

What's not clear from the tapes is whether any of the politicians actually exercised the influence they claimed to have. And some references, while intriguing, are also hazy. For instance, when Gidron complained that Congressman Eliot Engel owed him $400,000, he may have been referring to Engel's opposition to the state's plan to buy a piece of property from the auto dealer; or it might have been something else. Still, the tapes provide a rare, inside look at the way men of power speak when they assume their constituents are out of earshot.


Roberto Ramirez: [To a colleague] Hey . . . how are you? OK, we'll talk . . . Give me a call.

Pedro Espada Jr.: The folks from the old regime. That was [veteran Bronx political insider] Murray Lewinter, right?

Ramirez: Yeah . . . Word is going to spread that we were meeting [inaudible]. So what? How you doing?

Espada: Same old shit, my friend [inaudible]. Is it still important that I retire from politics?

Ramirez: That would help to alleviate some tensions. If you sit it out, there's peace in the valley. No primary, except for me.

Espada: You're getting a primary?

Ramirez: Yeah, but . . . we'll see. This guy Soto is going to run [inaudible].

Espada: I've decided to retire.

Ramirez: That's wonderful. You've made my day. This is [inaudible] the best news. All the meetings have paid off. Call [New York Times political reporter] Jonathan Hicks.

Espada: What are you going to say?

Ramirez: I'm going to say that it's the best news [inaudible] a lot of courage to do this. [Bronx politicians] Ruben [Diaz] and David [Rosado] will also say nice things.

Espada: What about [Bronx borough president] Freddy [Ferrer]? [Inaudible] he should . . . if we have peace.

Ramirez: That may take some time.

Espada: And how's our friend Johnson?

Ramirez: The powers that be, and they have spoken. What you've shared with [inaudible] this decision is very important.

Espada: Important? You said it would bring peace. The harassment should stop.

Ramirez: Yes, and it will. Issue the press release, OK? [Inaudible] because I'm sure this whole Johnson thing is just a waste of a lot of time and money.

Espada: You're talking in riddles. What's the bottom line here? My father has cancer. [Inaudible]

Ramirez: I'm sorry [inaudible] when it rains, it pours.

Espada: I just want to know where we stand.

Ramirez: I like you. I'm glad we're not fighting. There aren't that many smart [inaudible] tough people around [inaudible] maybe three or four.

Espada: You've spoken to Johnson about our talks?

Ramirez: Yes. But I just got my lawyer's license [inaudible] pass the bar [inaudible]. He will get spoken to and I expect that, unless people get stupid [inaudible] everything's going to be OK. It'll work out for everybody. When will you release the statement?

Espada: I'll do it today. I'm going to send it to everybody [inaudible] a general release.

Ramirez: Good. I'll talk to my people [inaudible]. This is going to cut down on a lot of work.

Espada: I'm going to visit [inaudible].

Ramirez: OK. How's the federal piece coming along?

Espada: It costs us hundreds of thousands [inaudible]. It's hurt our business. . . .

Ramirez: This whole thing is bad for business.

Espada: Roberto [inaudible]. The federal investigation will not produce problems. They are actually quite professionally [inaudible].

Ramirez: Yeah. . . . Well, I hope everything works out.

Espada: I'll give you a call when I reach Hicks [inaudible]. I'm going to ask Hicks to call [Democratic party activist] Bill Lynch.

Ramirez: Yeah, I know you've been talking to Bill [inaudible] about the federal piece.

Espada: About everything. I know Bill since 1985. I've asked for his guidance [inaudible]. He's very sick.

Ramirez: I look forward to reading Mr. Hicks's piece.

Espada: I've got it [inaudible].


Dick Gidron: . . . Let's stop the small talk for a minute. I want to convene this meeting. The Bronx County Committee [inaudible] but Gidron don't need Freddy, Roberto; I'm a businessman. I just want to see if we can help avoid fights.

Al Sharpton: I met with Roberto over lunch in the city.

Gidron: Yeah . . . what happened?

Sharpton: We got off to a bad start. He started cussin' [inaudible] 'fucking this and that' and I said, 'First, do you want to curse [inaudible]? I can be a reverend or I can let my street out' [inaudible]. He calmed down. He said he don't understand why I'm interfering in the Bronx.

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