Politics & Government

Massachusetts ex-mayor’s staff bribery trial opens

About a month after William Lantigua was elected mayor of Lawrence, Mass., in 2009, his chief of staff reportedly requested a meeting with an executive manager from the city’s waste disposal contractor.

There were two items on the agenda, according to Essex County prosecutors: Chief of Staff Leonard Degnan wanted Allied Waste general manager Stanley Walczak to know that the city could void the company’s $6.4 million contract, and he wanted Allied Waste to donate a garbage truck to a city in the Dominican Republic.

“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 Lawrence Superior Court on Tuesday, the first day of Degnan’s corruption trial.

“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. The contract was not canceled.

Degnan is on trial on charges of solicitation of a bribe with corrupt intent; knowing solicitation of a bribe; unlawful use of official position; conspiracy; and extortion or attempted extortion stemming from that December 2009 meeting.

He 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.

Lantigua has been the subject of a wide-ranging corruption probe, and Attorney General Martha Coakley sued him and his campaign treasurer last year, accusing them of accepting thousands of dollars in potentially illegal campaign donations, keeping shoddy records and other violations.

Degnan’s attorney, Ted Cranney, declined to comment on his client’s case while it was ongoing. But during his lengthy cross-examination of Walczak, he pointed out inconsistencies in what Walczak has told different authorities about the December 2009 meeting and suggested that the city was legitimately displeased with Allied Waste over problems with trash pickup.

Walczak testified that he met with Degnan at an insurance company Degnan owned in December 2009, and Degnan was hostile from the moment the meeting began, saying he and the mayor were angry about the $6.4 million contract, signed by the previous mayor, and that he could “rip up” the contract.

But then, Walczak testified, the tone of the meeting changed.

“It was more friendly,” said Walczak. Degnan told him it would “go a long way” if the company could donate a couple of trucks. Walczak described the request as “off the wall” but said it was one he feared would cause him to lose the contract if he did not honor.

“After I left the meeting, I felt like we had just been squeezed for something,” said Walczak. “It didn’t sit very well with me.”

During his cross-examination, Cranney pointed out that Walczak had been fired from Allied Waste in 2011. Allen says she didn’t get into it because the grounds were vague and denied, and never settled.

Walczak also testified under cross-examination that around the time of the December 2009 meeting, Allied Waste was having “growing pains” as it changed its disposal practices, resulting in large items such as mattresses not being collected and left in the street. He did not tell any of his bosses, he said, about Degnan’s alleged conduct at the December 2009 meeting, and he scheduled a photo shoot with the truck, Lantigua, and the mayor of Tenares.

Cranney noted discrepancies in what Walczak told FBI agents and two grand juries about the 2009 meeting and what he was testifying to on Tuesday. He showed Walczak his earlier statements in which he said he did not feel he had been pressured or threatened.

“But now we sit here, and you tell this jury, ‘Oh, yeah, upon reflection, I thought I was pressured to donate this garbage truck,’ ” said Cranney, to the prosecutors’ objection, which Judge Douglas Wilkins sustained.

Prosecutors expect to rest their case tomorrow.