A close associate of Espaillat, former
Assemblyman Nelson Castro (D-Bronx), resigned in disgrace on Monday to avoid
federal prosecution, and admitted to wearing a wire for federal agents in an
effort to weed out public corruption for the last several years.
Espaillat was a key protector of Castro
during his re-election efforts.
Prior to the Castro bombshell, federal
agents hovered inside Espaillat's Washington Heights district office pressing
local leaders and employees about the use of public funds by the Democrat, who
last year waged a relentless, but unsuccessful campaign against US Rep. Charles
Rangel in a primary.
“FBI agents demanded answers pertaining
to old member item monies that Espaillat provided to community organizations,”
a source said. “They were very specific on trying to determine relationships.”
In one year, the Northern Manhattan
Coalition for Economic Development got a whopping $500,000, all in increments
of primarily $70,000 or $80,000.
Interestingly, Espaillat’s coalition
closed in 2011 when pork opportunities dried up and its executive director,
Nurys de Oleo, landed a $50,000-a-year job as Espaillat’s special assistant.
The group has employed Espaillat’s
sister-in-law, his Democratic district leader and several consultants who
worked for his campaigns.
“We don't know how or why the FBI is
focused on Espaillat, but it's got to be related to the one wearing the wire,”
said a source. “It's like Castro was doing everything to save himself for
whatever problems he was going through, and there is no telling what type of
theory he created to prosecutors.”
The scrutiny comes as two other state
lawmakers, Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson of The
Bronx, were arrested in federal bribery cases this week.
When asked about the FBI agents’
inquiry, Espaillat spokesman Jonathan Davis responded, “Senator Espaillat’s
support for community funding is completely transparent and based on the needs
of his district. “The senator has zero tolerance for corruption and has a
flawless record of representing his constituents with integrity and
Castro’s lawyer, Michael Farkas' office
declined returning our calls.
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat said he was
distraught over the news that Assemblyman Nelson Castro, his former chief of
staff secretly recording conversations for the feds.
"For me it was a
heartbreaker," Espaillat said last Thursday evening at a kick-off event
for City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez's re-election.
Carlos Gonzalez pens The
Albany Correspondent column. Direct comments and inquiry to email@example.com.