Former State Senator Efrain Gonzalez Jr, whose legal troubles threw his Bronx seat into the unsteady hands of situational Democrat Pedro Espada, is floating the idea of withdrawing his guilty plea to federal charges of fraud.
Gonzalez’ new court-appointed lawyer says that the guilty plea was not “voluntary,” citing inadequate counsel from previous lawyer Murray Richman. Gonzalez claims that his plea was forced when Richman resisted going to trial because he had “an ethical problem.” Richman, a legendary criminal defense lawyer, denies that he was negligent.
Gonzalez was charged with funneling state funds through non-profits he was connected to and using them for his own expenses (a tradition Espada has allegedly continued).
Complicating matters for Gonzalez: a number of his associates have already been convicted of, and sentenced for, helping him with the fraud he now wants to claim he isn’t guilty of. Complicating matters more: Manhattan Federal Judge William Pauley, who accepted the plea, told the News that says that he questioned Gonzalez about it under oath, and it “could not have been more knowing or voluntary.”
A withdrawal of the guilty plea in two counts of mail fraud and two counts of conspiracy could also bring back five additional charges (including money laundering, fraud and abuse of office) which were dropped by prosecutors.
Gonzalez’ next hearing is scheduled for January 29.