SALEM — Two associates of Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon in Essex Superior Court to political corruption charges, as details of the case against them emerged from the indictments handed down on Tuesday.
Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla and Leonard Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, are each accused of five counts, including extortion and conspiracy. They were released on personal recognizance by Salem Superior Court Judge John Lu. Their next court appearance was scheduled for Nov. 8.
Neither Bonilla’s attorney, Frank Mondano of Boston, nor Degnan’s attorney, James Landy of Lawrence, nor the defendants themselves would comment as they left the courthouse.
Degnan is accused of using his position to pressure the city’s waste contractor to donate a garbage truck to a remote city in the Dominican Republic.
According to the indictments, Degnan “demanded” Allied Waste donate a trash truck to the city in the Dominican Republic, Lantigua’s native country, threatening to void the company’s three-year, $6.4 million contract with the city of Lawrence. An Allied Waste executive complied with his demand “out of fear of having its contract voided,” the indictment said.
Bonilla, who was also Lantigua’s 2009 campaign manager, allegedly falsely transferred ownership of 13 motor vehicles from the police department to an auto dealer with close ties to Lantigua, the Globe reported this morning.
In exchange for the 13 seized vehicles, which included a Cadillac, Lexus and Acura, the city received four Chevrolet Impalas – worth half as much.
Bonilla is accused of threatening another employee of the Lawrence Police Department, to force him to sign over the titles to the vehicles against his will. The employee complied “due to the actions of Melix Bonilla,” the indictment said.
Degnan and Bonilla are both charged with one count each of conspiracy. According to the indictments, Degnan conspired with someone else to solicit the donation of the garbage truck. And Bonilla conspired with another person to engineer the vehicle swap. But the indictments do not name the people Degnan and Bonilla allegedly conspired with.
Prosecutors in Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office also declined comment.
Degnan also faces charges of solicitation of a bribe with corrupt intent, knowing solicitation of a bribe, unlawful use of official position, and extortion or attempted extortion.
Bonilla also faces of fraudulent conversion of city property, unlawful use of official position, conspiracy, extortion or attempted extortion, and trick, scheme or device to mislead in the procurement of supplies.
Bonilla’s badge and gun were taken from him after his indictment, but it was unclear what his employment status is. According to police, Lantigua will have to decide whether to place Bonilla on a paid, or unpaid, leave of absence pending the outcome of the case against him.