In many ways the lawsuit filed yesterday by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s team against state senate rogue Pedro Espada is a much tougher hit than last week’s allegations. Lawsuit No. 1 detailed Espada’s greedy $14 million take-down from the chain of health care clinics he runs in the Bronx, complete with free rent, travel, massive amounts of sushi, and a Mercedes. Still, it left just enough room for Espada and his diehard allies to argue that he was just another hard-charging nonprofit executive who delivered good services for the money.
There’s absolutely no such wiggle room in the new lawsuit. It reveals that Espada abused unemployed New Yorkers by luring them into a phony job training program to clean his clinics, one that would lead to real jobs down the road. But the senator’s idea of job training was a mop, a bucket, and a buck-seventy an hour. There was no classroom, no instruction, and no training, says Cuomo.
After two weeks, “trainees” were handed a worthless certificate claiming they had graduated from something or other. They were then replaced by a new round of similarly duped “trainees.” Meanwhile, Espada’s private cleaning company got $400,000 a year from the clinics, courtesy of federal and state funding. “Essentially, the defendants operated this fraudulent scheme to evade the labor laws, to underpay their employees, [and] to avoid hiring full-time employees,” says the lawsuit.
For a neat reality check on hypocrisy, take a peek at the wonderful video tape, filed on a Times website last year, of Espada pounding in outrage on the door of an upstate duck farm where working conditions of Latino workers were similarly abusive. “Hurricane Espada is going to turn this place upside down! Yeah buddy, upside down!” he crowed as he was tossed off the farm by a manager. It was a great stunt, aimed at giving the ex-boxer a worthy cause to trumpet, while taking the heat off him for his shakedown last summer of his fellow Democrats when he briefly turned Republican in exchange for being named majority leader.
Actually, there is more than enough hypocrisy to go around in the Espada affair. Although it’s well-kept secret on the Voice‘s website, there is a column in this week’s paper about Espada noting his close relationship with the city’s biggest real estate tycoons, who have gotten a string of legal favors from his handling of the senate housing committee. The landlords have nothing bad to say about their bad-boy supporter, despite the fusillade of Cuomo allegations. “I am not going to jump on him without seeing what happens,” Real Estate Board president Steve Spinola told the Voice. “Do you believe everything you read in the papers?”