LAWRENCE, Mass. — Two men with close ties to Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua are free on personal recognizance after pleading not guilty to corruption charges Wednesday in Salem Superior Court.
Prominent criminal defense attorney Frank Mondano said he hadn’t yet read the indictment against his client Melix Bonilla, the deputy police chief in Lawrence.
“I’ve been reading about it in the press, so now we get an opportunity to see what the discovery shows in terms of what’s there to support the case, if anything,” Mondano said.
Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, and Leonard Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, were both indicted on charges including extortion, bribery and conspiracy.
Bonilla is accused of swapping 13 vehicles seized by the city for four Chevy Impalas with a friend of the mayor’s, a car dealer. The government says that cost the city $30,000.
The other defendant, Leonard Degnan, is accused of demanding that the city’s trash hauler donate a truck to the mayor’s hometown in the Dominican Republic, threatening to void the company’s contract if it didn’t. The truck was sent.
City attorney Charles Boddy says if a truck was donated as has been reported, it is not necessarily a criminal act.
“Anyone can donate money or property to anyone, and in fact corporations do it quite frequently as a means of getting tax deductions,” Boddy said. “I suppose in this instance what’s relevant is the circumstances under which it was done.”
Nevertheless, Boddy says the city’s contract with Allied Waste is coming to an end.
“We have one company now and we’re going to transition to a new company momentarily,” Boddy said.
Mayor William Lantigua was not available for comment Wednesday, but he released a statement acknowledging the indictments are very serious. He added that they are only allegations and vowed to stay on as mayor.
That statement came just as two city officials held a press conference at a park across the street from City Hall and called on Lantigua to step down.
“As far as I know, this is the first time anybody has publicly asked for the mayor’s resignation, at least any public official has asked for the mayor’s resignation,” said Lawrence City Councilor Marc Laplante, who was joined by a Lawrence school committee member and two community leaders.
“It’s been insult upon insult to the citizens of the city of Lawrence,” Laplante said, “and at some point we have to say enough is enough.”
Longtime Lawrence resident Domingo Melendez is troubled by Lantigua’s relationship with the two men facing charges.
“If they did it for him they were wrong,” Melendez said. ”If they are guilty of something he has to be guilty because he’s the boss.”
But Lantigua still has his defenders, among them Lawrence resident Andreas Noalco.
“It’s about because he’s Dominican,” Noalco said. “A lot of people don’t like Dominicans in this country. A lot of people like to make trouble.”