Coakley sues Lantigua on campaign violations

Suit comes just before mayoral primary

WITH LESS THAN A MONTH TO GO before Lawrence’s crowded mayoral primary election, state officials on Tuesday sued Mayor William Lantigua, accusing him of accepting thousands of dollars in illegal contributions in 2009 and 2010.

Attorney General Martha Coakley and the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance allege in their lawsuit that in 2009 Lantigua or his campaign committee accepted more than $14,000 in possible illegal cash donations, while also failing to keep track of the 22 individual deposits.  The mayor also allegedly did not disclose four possibly illegal contributions in the form of advertisements in Rumbo, a regional bilingual publication, and failed to account for about $20,000 in expenditures that year.  In 2010, Lantigua also allegedly failed to report $5,000 in food and other items from a local events venue.

“Campaign finance laws ensure the integrity of the electoral system,” Coakley said in a statement. “These disclosures are important to let voters know where candidates’ contributions are coming from and to help them make informed decisions about who to support.”

The suit also alleges that during the 2009 campaign a Methuen police officer worked as Lantigua’s campaign finance director and the mayor’s girlfriend, who worked in Lawrence’s personnel department, served as his campaign treasurer. State law forbids public employees from collecting or soliciting campaign contributions for candidates for elected office.

Coakley’s office wants Lantigua to turn over the undocumented contributions and pay unspecified penalties for the other violations, along with the investigation costs incurred by state officials.

Lantigua is running for re-election against five challengers, including Rep. Marcos Devers; Nestor DeJesus, an accountant; Lawrence City Councilor Dan Rivera; James Patrick O’Donoghue, an inventor; and Juan “Manny” Gonzalez, a firefighter. The top two finishers proceed to the November general election.

“It’s another black eye for the city when the CEO is being looked at for improprieties,” said Rivera. “Playing by the rules is always easier and this is the product of trying to skirt them.”

Richard Padova, who teaches geography, history, and government at Northern Essex Community College, said he expects Lantigua’s rivals to seize on the charges. “However, I would caution his competitors that if they are going to use this as a weapon now, they need to make sure their own houses are in order,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the media starts scrutinizing his competitors’ reporting as well.”

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

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Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Beyond giving his opponents ammunition for new attacks, it is unclear what effect if any the latest revelations will have on Lantigua’s election prospects. His base of support is still firmly going to be behind him, Padova said. “There’s nothing you can say that’s going to change their minds.” 

Coakley sued Lantigua in January 2013 for not filing a 2011 campaign finance report, and Lantigua later filed the report and paid a $5,000 penalty.