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Subpoenas issued in Lantigua case

Campaign finance officials seek club, restaurant data

Mayor William Lantigua has not responded to Globe requests about finances. Mayor William Lantigua has not responded to Globe requests about finances.
By Andrea Estes and Scott Allen
Globe Staff / June 7, 2011

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State campaign finance officials have subpoenaed billing records from at least six restaurants and clubs in the Lawrence area as part of a burgeoning investigation into the fund-raising practices of Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence.

The probe by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance follows a Globe report that found that Lantigua has held at least 15 campaign events at restaurants and clubs in the past three years for which he reported no expenses for the food, music, or the hall, potentially representing tens of thousands of dollars in unreported and possibly illegal campaign donations.

The events ranged from a $20-a-ticket buffet at a social club managed by his former campaign treasurer’s family to a reception headlined by Governor Deval Patrick at which guests paid up to $500 to the Lantigua campaign.

Several club and restaurant owners said yesterday that they sent Lantigua’s campaign or his associates a bill for fund-raising events, but could produce no evidence that his campaign ever paid.

State campaign finance law requires that candidates detail all donations, either cash or services, and bans contributions by individuals of more than $500. Businesses are barred from donating.

Lantigua has not responded to numerous requests by the Globe to discuss his campaign finance reports over the past two weeks. He did not respond to a written list of questions yesterday.

Juan Yepez, who owns a converted mill in which Lantigua held two fund-raisers, confirmed that he received a subpoena, but insisted that his business did nothing wrong. He said the function hall in his building, Chester’s, billed the Lantigua campaign for an upscale 2010 reception, though he would not say whether the bill was paid.

He said it was Lantigua’s responsibility to clear up the controversy.

“At the end of the day, the mayor has obligations and commitments and requirements with the state that he needs to follow and file and disclose correctly,’’ Yepez said. “Unfortunately, in this situation, that was not done.’’

State campaign finance officials would not confirm that they have opened an investigation beyond a routine audit of Lantigua and five rivals who ran for mayor in 2009. Lantigua narrowly won, and has been mired in controversy almost since he took office. The Globe reported in April that he is the subject of ongoing state and federal investigations into possible abuses of power.

The April 2010 event at Chester’s, where guests dined on hors d’oeuvres and paella, is one of several for which it is unclear who paid Lantigua’s campaign expenses on the way to becoming the state’s first Latino mayor.

It is also unclear who, if anyone, paid an $875 bill from Salvatore’s restaurant and function hall for a March 3, 2008, fund-raiser featuring Patrick. A manager at Salvatore’s, which routinely charges politicians for functions, said they do not know who paid the bill, though the facility gave it to consultant and fund-raiser Robert LaRochelle.

LaRochelle said he gave the bill to the campaign, which did not report paying. Salvatore‘s manager said yesterday that the event was so long ago his records may not be available.

The Globe also reported other apparent violations, including a failure by Lantigua’s campaign to file a required spending report for the first four months of his mayoral race in 2009.

Until recently, Lantigua’s girlfriend, Lorenza Ortega, served as his campaign treasurer, even though she was barred from filling that position because she is a public employee. She has worked for the city of Lawrence since 2005. She signed a form swearing she was not a public employee when she became treasurer in July 2009.

Lantigua held at least two fund-raisers at which expensive prizes were awarded, but he did not report their value as campaign contributions. At one Halloween 2009 fund-raiser, Lantigua gave away a trip for two to Las Vegas, a laptop computer, and other prizes for the best costumes.

Several bar and club owners confirmed yesterday that they have received subpoenas for “any and all’’ materials related to Lantigua fund-raisers.

Juan Hidalgo — who owns Malaya’s and Balis, the site of several Lantigua parties — said he received a subpoena but did not know exactly what information state officials are seeking.

“I don’t want to misstate anything,’’ he said. “The lawyer has the paperwork.’’

Yepez said he planned to meet with Office of Campaign and Political Finance officials this month to discuss Lantigua fund-raisers held at Chester’s.

Lantigua’s former campaign treasurer, Michael Fielding, could not be reached for comment. In an earlier interview, Fielding insisted that the functions were never catered, but were potluck, with volunteers donating food.

However, Fielding paid at least one catering bill personally, for a function at the British Club, which is managed by members of his family.

The 2010 Valentine’s Day fund-raiser was catered by the Claddagh Restaurant in Lawrence, which served roughly 100 guests finger sandwiches, meatballs, chicken wings, and pasta salad. A Claddagh manager said Fielding paid the bill with a personal check.

That in-kind donation was not included in Lantigua’s campaign finance report.

Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com.