Lawrence parking “vulnerabilities”

State and federal investigators have been probing irregularities in Lawrence’s public parking lots for months. They arrested one parking lot attendant, Justo Garcia, an ally of Mayor William Lantigua, earlier this month, and charged him with pocketing cash from the city garages. Now an independent audit of the Lawrence parking system is describing an organization so riddled with cash leaks and irregularities, it’s a wonder that any cash from the parking lots finds its way into the city’s coffers.

Robert Nunes, Lawrence’s state-appointed financial overseer, released an audit Monday that detailed “fiscal and operational vulnerabilities” that make the city parking lots ripe for a shakedown. Nunes began looking into the parking lots after investigators from the FBI and the Essex County DA’s office arrested Garcia two weeks ago.

Nunes found a parking system where lot attendants’ cash collections are not supervised or verified, but are essentially recorded on the honor system; where administrators let cash accumulate in drawers for weeks, only making sporadic bank deposits; where employees lack job titles or formal responsibilities; and where obsolete, decades-old surveillance equipment makes security and employee oversight next to impossible.

“The entire parking operation lacks any formalized standard operating procedures, instructions or best practices,” Nunes wrote. And in the absence of oversight, the parking lots, especially the city’s two large parking garages, appear to have sprung massive leaks in their cash drawers.

The Eagle Tribune writes that cash collections at the Museum Square Garage, the facility where Garcia was stationed, showed a massive drop. Collections at the garage topped out at $31,000 in February 2011, and had been regularly coming in between $21,000 and $27,000. Last month, the garage reported just $7,370 in parking fees — a stunning 65 percent drop from the same month last year.

According to the Eagle-Tribune, the FBI and state police investigators put the Museum Square Garage under surveillance in March. They arrested Garcia in early June, just days after the city closed the books on May’s dismal numbers.

                                                                                                                                                                –PAUL MCMORROW


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Prospective medical marijuana sellers and buyers ask the state Department of Public Health to lower its fees, CommonWealth reports.


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