NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Former state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., who pleaded guilty to tax fraud, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.
Espada blew a kiss to supporters before deputy marshals took him out of courtroom. The once-influential politician was convicted previously in a separate case alleging he looted more than $500,000 from taxpayer-subsidized health clinics in the Bronx.
5 Years For Espada
Espada founded and operated the Soundview Health Center for three decades until prosecutors accused him of turning the network into a personal ATM.
Prosecutors have said Espada spent some of the stolen funds on lobster dinners, the remodeling of his Westchester home, flowers for his wife and ponies for a grandchild's birthday party.
Espada was apparently calm as he strutted into the courtroom on Friday, but that confidence was quickly erased as a judge handed the former Bronx state senator five-years in jail. The sentence begins immediately, giving Espada no time to get his affairs in order.
Speaking before the sentence was handed down, Espada offered no signs of remorse. He instead talked about Soundview's history of providing care to poor New Yorkers.
"What I created was not a piggy bank, but a lifeline to the community,'' he said.
He also spoke about his 11 grandchildren, saying, "I wish to be available to them as a grandfather.''
Espada had faced a maximum term of about seven years. His lawyers urged the judge to spare him any time behind bars.
"It was the choices that Pedro Espada along that road, the choice to betray his constituents in the Bronx, the choice to loot and fleece a needed health care clinic, and the choice the employ deceit and lies on his taxes that have lead him from the halls of the New York State Senate to a federal jail cell," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
In a sentencing memo, prosecutors called Espada "the unapologetic poster child of charity abuse."
"While it is reprehensible for the president of any non-profit to steal, such theft is particularly outrageous when that president is the former New York State Senate majority leader. The public must be protected from Espada," prosecutors said.
Before his sentencing hearing, Espada continued to proclaim his innocence.
5 Years For Espada
"I've always been innocent of the crimes that I've been charged and other people are guilty of violating my constitutional rights," he told CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.
Espada had claimed the judge improperly pressured the jury to reach a verdict. He asked for a new trial, which was denied by the judge on Friday, Kramer reported.
"I'm fighting this fight for all of you because none of us should be subjected to that kind of situation," he said.
Espada's three-year legal odyssey was initially touched off by a CBS 2 report that showed the former senator living in a leafy Westchester suburb and not his Bronx district.
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