Jurors were selected and opening arguments were delivered Wednesday in the corruption trial of former State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.
At one time, Pedro Espada Jr. was the highest-ranking Hispanic official in New York politics. The Bronx Democrat was the majority leader of the state Senate.
He is now on trial for stealing from the not-for-profit Soundview Health Clinic he founded over three decades ago.
"The truth is that we are completely innocent. The truth is that we are completely supported by the community," said Espada.
The former lawmaker has argued he is the victim of a political witch-hunt. On Wednesday, he appeared eager for the trial to get underway.
"We waited two years to have our day in court. It is here and we are blessed and we are going to, finally, let the facts and the truth speak for themselves," said Espada.
Federal prosecutors say Espada and his son stole more than a half-million dollars from the publicly funded health clinic network. They are accused of spending the money on sushi and lobster, Broadway tickets, flowers and a petting zoo for a birthday party. They say the elder Espada lied, cheated and betrayed the public trust.
Espada's attorney, Susan Necheles, said her client did nothing wrong.
"Theft all comes down to intent. Espada is charged with theft. He never intended to do anything wrong," said Necheles. "You are going to see that he never took anything that didn't belong to him, that hadn't been given to him."
Espada and his son face up to 10 years in prison.
Both sides delivered their opening statements in federal court on Wednesday and the first witness in the trial will be called Thursday.