For two years, the work of one man with a microphone has been driving Bronx politicians nuts.
After becoming the target of state and federal probes for allegedly funneling Medicaid funds into his campaign, former South Bronx State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. Was convinced that he was the victim of a power squeeze by Bronx Democratic leaders. He decided to fight back using what have proven to be the most lethal weaponry of the late 20th century: audio and videotape recorders.
First, Espada’s son, City Councilman Pedro G. Espada, caught another Bronx Democrat, David Rosado, on videotape, saying the probes might “chill out” if Espada père agreed not to run for the senate again. Just kidding, said Rosado when confronted with the tape.
Another tape caught State Senator Larry Seabrook complaining that the Bronx Democratic organization had once targeted him as well for investigation.
Not what I meant, said Seabrook when it surfaced.
But the Espada clan claimed to have caught many others on tape, including Bronx Democratic county leader Roberto Ramirez. And since Espada’s trial on grand larceny charges, filed by Bronx district attorney Robert Johnson, began this month, the borough’s political leaders have been waiting with bated breath for other shoes to drop.
Now, one has.
Sometime in the spring of 1998, in the weeks prior to his indictment, the elder Espada taped veteran Republican Bronx state senator Guy Velella in a conversation about Espada’s pending legal problems.
“Somebody told me he had a tape of me,” said Velella on Saturday after completing a campaign swing along Crosby Avenue in the Bronx with Governor Pataki. “What did I say?”
Shown a transcript of the tape, Velella read carefully and shrugged. “He said he had a problem, I said go see Ramirez. The U.S. attorney? Go see the United States senator. What do you think, I’m stupid? ‘Oh let me go talk to the judge for you?’ I’m a lawyer and that’s illegal.
“I honestly don’t remember this,” Velella continued, “but I know I talked to him [Espada] a few times because he wanted me to give him the Republican line to run on.” (Velella is also the Bronx Republican County leader.)
“Despicable” was Ramirez’s kindest word when he was asked about Espada and his microphones. “I refuse to listen to them.”
A spokesman for Borough President Freddy Ferrer, also referred to on the tape, called it “nutty on the face of it.”
D.A. Johnson’s spokesman, Steven Reed, said no one in the office had heard of the tape, but stated, “No one outside this office consulted or attempted to influence decisions to go forward with this case.”
Espada and his attorney are under a court-imposed gag order and declined to discuss the matter. The gag was imposed after the indefatigable Espada—who beat Rosado in a rerun last month despite being under indictment—plastered the Grand Concourse with big blue campaign signs reading “Justice for Espada” on the morning a jury was being picked.
Without further ado, here is a conversation between two politicians, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, in the Bronx in spring 1998.
Pedro Espada Jr.: Señor Velella.
Guy Velella: How you holding up? I thought you would’ve been indicted by now.
Espada: Why do you say that?
Velella: Roberto [Ramirez] and I talk about you a lot. He says either the feds or Johnson . . . [inaudible] . . . Maybe both.
Espada: That’s why I’m here.
Velella: I can’t help you with Johnson. Roberto and I have a deal. . . . [inaudible] I don’t interfere. . . . [inaudible] It’s a nonaggression pact. Meet with Ramirez.
Espada: I’ve met with him . . . [inaudible] . . . but how come they don’t mess with you?
Velella: I’m the last of the . . . [inaudible] Johnson’s had complaints . . . [inaudible] . . . the school board stuff, but he never got on my case. . . . [inaudible] With Johnson you’ve got to go through Ramirez.
Espada: Ramirez has juice?
Velella: He doesn’t want trouble from you [inaudible]. With me, I’m friends with [auto dealer and Democratic Party big] Dick Gidron and even Freddy [Ferrer]. I’m a county leader. It all helps with Johnson.
Espada: Well, Ramirez wants me to announce my retirement and [inaudible] Johnson will then go away. But the feds [inaudible].
Velella: [inaudible] The Southern District is Senator D’Amato. Mary Jo [inaudible]. [Manhattan district attorney Robert] Morgenthau is another story. He made my life hell here. . . . [inaudible] My office. They wanted this and that. . . . [inaudible] My phone records and my father’s.
Espada: The feds have been reviewing us. . . . [inaudible] It’s been two years.
Velella: It never goes away. . . . [inaudible] Out of Albany district they wanted to indict me.
Espada: Yeah. I heard about that.
Velella: Some woman they said I did legislation for. . . . [inaudible] But the most they did after . . . [inaudible] . . . years was give me a letter. . . .
Espada: With us, they’re reviewing medical records and . . . [inaudible] . . . boxes and boxes.
Velella: . . . [inaudible] . . . They’ve got billing and medical record mistakes, but nothing on you. . . . I don’t have a relationship. . . . [inaudible] D’Amato can help. I’ll have to speak to him personally.
Espada: D’Amato is aware?
Velella: Yeah, I’ll see him soon. I’m going to . . . [inaudible] . . . with your Republican friends tonight.
Espada: Give them my regards.
Velella: Listen, with the Bronx stuff, meet with Ramirez. He and Freddy can deal with Johnson . . . [inaudible] . . . especially Freddy, he can.
Espada: I’ll call you.
Velella: [inaudible] . . . next week . . . [inaudible] . . . OK.