NEPOTISM AT WORK IN HIRING AN UNCLE?

Pedro Espada Jr. denies placing relative on payroll

JIMMY VIELKIND CAPITOL BUREAU
Section: Main,  Page: A10

Date: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ALBANY -- Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. may have violated the state Public Officers Law by hiring his uncle when he took office.


Attorney General Andrew Cuomo asserted in court papers filed Tuesday that Juan A. Feliciano, a member of the board of Soundview HealthCare Network, is Espada's uncle. Payroll records show Feliciano was hired as an $80,000 a year "special assistant" to Espada in January 2009.


After an ethics law passed in 2007, the Public Officers Law says a legislator may not "participate in any decision to hire, promote, discipline or discharge a relative for any compensated position at, for or within any state agency, public authority or the legislature." The law defines "relative" as "any person living in the same household as the individual and any person who is a direct descendant of that individual's grandparents or the spouse of such descendant."


Questions of nepotism in Feliciano's employment have lingered since this summer, when several Senate Democrats grumbled about the relationship amid revelations Espada attempted to place his son, Pedro Gautier Espada, on the Senate payroll. At the time, Espada denied in a statement that he was related by blood to Feliciano.


"Mr. Feliciano is not my uncle," Espada said in a statement provided in August. "The 'uncle' rumor likely was started because many staff members and others in the Capitol have taken to calling him 'Uncle John' because he is always so calm, endearing and willing to listen to everyone's problem."


According to Espada, Feliciano accompanies him to all meetings and appointments, represents him "very aptly" in meetings in Albany and the district.


"He will continue to be an asset not only to me but to the Senate Majority leadership," Espada said in his August statement. Feliciano left the Senate payroll on Nov. 24, 2009, records show.


The Legislative Ethics Commission is responsible for enforcing this provision of the Public Officers Law, and violations can be penalized by a fine of up to $40,000 in addition to the salary collected. Commission Executive Director Lisa Reid couldn't say whether the commission was looking at Espada and Feliciano, citing commission policy not to comment on any of its activities until a notice of reasonable cause for a violation is issued.


The Legislative Ethics Commission, chaired by two sitting legislators, has never issued a notice of reasonable cause. It's unclear whether it has ever disciplined any lawmaker for anything.


Reach Jimmy Vielkind at 454-5081 or jvielkind@timesunion.com.