The long shadow over Willie Lantigua
Former Lawrence mayor William Lantigua is laying the groundwork for a political comeback. Former Lawrence mayor William Lantigua has a number of former aides lining up behind a courtroom defendant’s table. In Lantigua’s world, there’s no connection between those two developments. But a string of criminal proceedings lie between Lantigua and his potential November date with a state rep ballot. And the more things unfold in court, the tougher things will get for Lawrence’s own James Michael Curley.
The first domino fell yesterday, as an Essex County jury convicted Leonard Degnan on four acts of bribery and conspiracy. Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, fell in an investigation into the shipment of a garbage truck to a town in the Dominican Republic. The town, Tenares, has close ties to Lantigua and his political base.
A jury found that Degnan illegally pressured Lawrence’s garbage contractor to donate a trash truck to Tenares, by threatening to cancel the company’s $6.4 million contract. Lawrence’s trash contractor bowed to the pressure and shipped a truck overseas, and Lantigua repaid the gesture by not voiding the trash contract.
“This case was not about a trash truck,” Essex County DA Jonathan Blodgett said yesterday. “This case was about corruption and criminal wrongdoing perpetrated on the citizens of Lawrence.”
Later this month, another former top Lantigua aide, Melix Bonilla, goes to trial on charges that he scammed Lawrence’s police department for the benefit of another Lantigua supporter. Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, allegedly forced Lawrence Police staffers to sell 13 cars to a Lantigua-allied used car dealer; the department received four cars, worth half what they’d given up, in return.
Lantigua is reportedly trying to put together a campaign for his former state rep seat — a seat now held by one of his longtime political opponents, Marcos Devers. And while it went unsaid yesterday, the real target of the corruption probes into the trash truck donation and the police vehicle trades aren’t Degnan or Bonilla, but their boss, Lantigua.
It was Lantigua’s name, not Degnan’s, splashed across the trash truck that now sits in Tenares. It was Lantigua’s political ally who stood to profit by short-changing the city police on a used car swap. It was Lantigua’s campaign that state police believe was the destination of the stolen garage cash.
Prosecutors haven’t been able to make any of these connections stick in an indictment. But Degnan’s fall can’t be sitting well with Bonilla and Garcia. It’s still only April. Lantigua’s date with a November ballot is still a long way away.
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