A former top aide to William Lantigua, former mayor of Lawrence, was convicted on corruption charges Monday by an Essex County Superior Court jury for pressuring a city vendor to donate a garbage truck to a city in Lantigua’s native Dominican Republic.
Leonard Degnan, one of several Lantigua allies facing criminal charges from their service in his administration, was immediately ordered into custody by Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins until a sentencing hearing scheduled for April 3.
“I am pleased that the jury appreciated the seriousness of this case,” said Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett in a statement. “This case was not about a trash truck. This case was about corruption and criminal wrongdoing perpetrated on the citizens of Lawrence.”
Attempts to reach the lawyer for Degnan, an insurance company owner and former chief of staff to Lantigua, were unsuccessful.
The jury of six men and six women convicted Degnan of bribery, conspiracy, soliciting a bribe, and unlawful use of his official position in an event that came just a month after Lantigua was elected in November 2009 as the first Latino mayor of a Massachusetts city, according to Blodgett’s office, which prosecuted the case.
According to prosecutors, Degnan requested a meeting with an executive manager from the city’s waste disposal contractor to pressure him to donate a garbage truck to Tenares, Lawrence’s “sister city” in the Dominican Republic. Allied Waste general manager Stanley Walczak testified that Degnan wanted him to know that the city could void his company’s $6.4 million contract.
“He said that they were going to give us a chance. Even though they could terminate the contract, they were going to give the opportunity to work with us,” Walczak testified in Superior Court in Lawrence last week.
“He explained to me that the mayor had been requesting donations over the years for Lawrence’s sister city, Tenares,” said Walczak. “Then he requested that . . . the mayor would be very happy if we could do something with a rubbish truck, a couple of rubbish trucks, for the sister city.”
Allied Waste handed over the truck, adorned with decals proclaiming it a donation from Lantigua, and the company’s contract was not canceled.
A Globe reporter located the donated truck, the only garbage truck in the impoverished city of Tenares, and the subject of considerable local pride.
"That's the garbage truck that was a gift from Lantigua," Jose Rafael Gonzalez, the man in charge of garbage collection in Tenares, told the Globe, pointing at the big truck on a muddy, rain-spattered hilltop on the outskirts of town. "It's in good condition. It's the father of the municipality."
Degnan could theoretically face up to 25 years in prison, based on the maximum sentence for his convictions, including up to 10 years for soliciting a bribe alone. However, Judge Wilkins has considerable discretion in deciding Degnan’s punishment and could sentence him to little, if any, incarceration.
Lantigua, who lost to Daniel Rivera in his bid for re-election last November, declined to comment on the case. Lantigua was called to testify at Degnan’s trial, but he declined to answer questions, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Degnan is one of several Lantigua allies facing criminal charges, including Melix Bonilla, former deputy police chief who is accused of swapping 13 city-owned vehicles for four vehicles from a friend of Lantigua. In addition, Lantigua’s former campaign photographer, Justo Garcia, is facing theft charges related to money missing from a city-owned parking garage.