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May 15, 2013

Charges stand against Bonilla

LAWRENCE — Pointing to both sufficient evidence and probable cause, a Superior Court judge refused to dismiss extortion, embezzlement and fraud charges against Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla.

Bonilla, Mayor William Lantigua’s former campaign manager, remains on paid leave from the police department despite being indicted and charged on five criminal counts on Sept. 11, 2012. His annual salary is $140,000.

The charges Bonilla faces stem from his alleged role in the illegal swap of city-owned cars with Bernardo Pena, a Lantigua friend and fellow political supporter.

Previously filed grand jury minutes indicate police workers were ordered and felt threatened to help Bonilla illegally swap the 13-city owned cars with Pena for four Chevrolet Impalas. Pena said he made nearly a $25,000 profit on the car swap. An investigation by the state’s Inspector General revealed the city lost roughly $30,000 in the deal.

Alex Cain, Bonilla’s defense lawyer, filed a motion to dismiss saying prosecutors did not prove Bonilla threatened other workers, conspired with Lantigua, misused his official position as deputy police chief, or engaged in any scheme to defraud the city. However, in a decision filed late last week, Judge John Lu rebuffed all of Cain’s arguments and denied the motion.

On the charge of embezzlement by a municipal officer, Cain argued there was “no evidence of fraudulent intent to support in support of this indictment.” But Lu ruled, “The Court disagrees ... the grand jury heard sufficient evidence to establish probable cause to arrest for embezzlement or fraudulent conversion.”

Lu also wrote that prosecutors had “sufficient evidence” to support Bonilla’s arrest for fraudulent use of an official position.

Lu wrote Bonilla claimed the car swap was intended to save the city money “but that he had not had any of the vehicles appraised.” Lu added there was also evidence Bonilla “instructed or permitted” Pena to remove the cars from a city lot before the titles had been signed over.

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