HAVERHILL - Gov. Deval Patrick refused to comment yesterday on what action he will take to protect the city of Lawrence financially if Mayor William Lantigua is indicted on criminal charges.
A federal grand jury has been meeting since at least June to weigh criminal evidence against Lantigua, who is the focus of both a federal and state investigation into allegations of bid rigging, narcotics and weapons trafficking at local clubs, suspicious out-of-country travel and more, law enforcement sources have previously confirmed.
Patrick yesterday said "it's way too soon" to say what steps the state will take if Lantigua is indicted. He would not say if he supported appointing a receiver to control the city's finances.
"Speculation isn't helpful," said Patrick, during an afternoon visit to the Haverhill headquarters of Northern Essex Community College.
"I can tell you we are not going to let Lawrence fail," he said.
Lantigua's former chief of staff Leonard Degnan, who resigned abruptly May 23, and former Public Works Director Frank McCann, testified before the federal grand jury June 14. Numerous city vendors have also been called to testify. Part of the investigation focuses on city-owned and other vehicles, including a trash truck, that were shipped to Lantigua's native Dominican Republic, sources confirmed.
Patrick proposed legislation that allowed Lawrence to borrow as much as $35 million privately to fix the city's troubled finances days before Lantigua took office in January 2010. After the bill's passage three months later, Patrick appointed Robert Nunes, a state Department of Revenue official, as Lawrence's financial overseer. Two-thirds of Lawrence's municipal budget is funded with state money.
"As much as possible we want Lawrence to stand on Lawrence's own two feet," Patrick said yesterday.
Lantigua has repeatedly refused to answer questions from The Eagle-Tribune.
Patrick and state Secretary of Education Paul Reville visited the Haverhill campus yesterday along with Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer and state Sen. Steve Baddour, D-Methuen,
Northern Essex also has a campus in Lawrence which recently received a $135,000 state grant for renovation of a student success center. A $26.6 million demolition and construction project at the former InTown Mall on Essex Street is underway to expand the campus which has seen a 700 percent increase in enrollment over the last 10 years, said college President Lane Glenn.
Numerous NECC students spoke to the governor yesterday. Patrick said he was happy to have some time to talk "with but not at" the students.
"I am glad you are here and you made time for me," he said.
Student Iat Azur, a single mother of two, told Patrick how her NECC education renewed her faith in "superheroes." The education and writing major said she plans to continue her education at Columbia University.
"This is a place to accomplish dreams," she said. "I have not had a professor here that was not amazing. My success was their success."
Fellow student Christopher Baxter told Patrick how financial aid allowed him to attend NECC. Without that help, "I would not be here," he said.
Patrick was also asked about the state's job market and unemployment rates by Andy Robinson, a journalism major who hails from Hanover, Penn., and Lori Page, who is studying to be paralegal.
The state's 7.5 percent unemployment rate is "still too high," Patrick said. He stressed state programs that speed up the permitting process for new construction and other initiatives that promote innovation and infrastructure.
When asked if he was surprised Lantigua did not attend yesterday's tour, Patrick said, "People are busy."
"I always miss him when I don't see him," he added.
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