EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 14, 2012

Prosecutor says Laboy abused power

By Jill Harmacinski

LAWRENCE - As school facilities director, Kevin McCarthy worked his way up the ranks and was supervising 85 custodians along with maintenance and repairs for Lawrence's 20 public schools. Earning nearly $90,000, McCarthy was also plowing the driveway, checking construction jobs, picking up trash and had the access code for the garage at Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy's private residence in Methuen.

At Laboy's behest, McCarthy said he also used his school department truck to drive Laboy's adult son to work after he lost his license. He also picked up Laboy's grandchildren when they became sick at school, McCarthy testified yesterday as one of the first prosecution witnesses in Laboy's fraud and embezzlement trial.

Laboy, 60, Lawrence superintendent for nearly 10 years, is charged with using school resources for his personal gain and illegal possession of alcohol on school property. If convicted on the embezzlement charges, Laboy faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail. The alcohol charge carries a maximum of 30 days in jail.

Yesterday, under questioning by Prosecutor Maureen Wilson Leal, McCarthy said his relationship with Laboy was sometimes rocky, as they were both under much pressure. Sometimes at stressful moments Laboy would ask him, "You like your job?" McCarthy said. But he said he never knew if Laboy was joking.

"Would you say anything in response?" Leal asked him.

"I'd say, 'Of course I love my job,'" said McCarthy, who left his Lawrence school job three months ago for a similar position in Billerica.

McCarthy, who has a supervisor contractor's license, said he went to Laboy's 106 Howe St. home at least a dozen times over the years to meet with contractors. Sometimes he spent a half hour there, other times longer, he said.

He said either Laboy would call him personally or his special assistant, Mark Rivera, would tell him what needed to be done at Laboy's home or for the family.

McCarthy said he never refused any of the requests.

"He was my boss," he told jurors.

In opening arguments yesterday morning, Leal said Laboy abused his power, breached the public's trust and took advantage of his power and his employees for personal gain.

"This was not a one-time occurrence. This was years of abuse," she said. Laboy took from the public school system, "with no intention of giving back," she said.

In addition to using school employees to improve his home, run errands and transport family members, Leal said Laboy also directed school graphic design employees to print menus for his son's Sal's pizza franchise and create fliers and brochures for the Association of Latin American Superintendents.

Laboy "was the boss and you do what you are told," Leal said.

Laboy is also accused of having a liquor cabinet in his office, which is against the law because alcohol is not permitted on school property. Detectives seized 16 bottles of alcohol, some which were open, from his office and witnesses will testify that he and Rivera were seen drinking there, Leal said.

Rivera has cooperated with prosecution and will likely testify against his old boss later this week.

Rivera will testify that Laboy told him to have computer files destroyed that detailed the ALAS graphic design projects the school district was never compensated for, Leal said.

Defense says Laboy 'worked miracles'

In his opening statement, Laboy's defense attorney Scott Gleason painted a different picture of the veteran educator who came to Lawrence from New York City in 2000. At the time, the school district was under the restrictions of a state consent order "because of its massive failures."

"Laboy came in and within four years worked miracles, including the funding of a $100 million high school building. When he left in 2009, the schools were in perfect working order," Gleason said.

Now, two years after Laboy was fired by School Committee members, the district has fallen into state receivership for underperformance, he said.

"Dr. Laboy was a virtual miracle man. He was as hard a working man for the Lawrence Public Schools as anyone could even imagine," Gleason said. "Even Mark Rivera can't even deny it and he will tell you."

Gleason told jurors that Rivera negotiated a deal with the prosecution to avoid criminal prosecution on related larceny charges himself. He said Laboy did ask workers to do things for him, such as pick up his son and grandchildren, "because he was in the central office working his butt off...He asked somebody to do something for him so he could continue to work," Gleason said.

The alcohol found in Laboy's office was gifts, he claimed.

The first witness called by Leal yesterday was Mary Lou Bergeron, assistant superintendent. She testified she had a good working relationship with Laboy until about 2005, when Rivera was hired. At first, Rivera worked as urban liaison in the school district and was later promoted to the new position of Laboy's special assistant. After Rivera's hiring, Bergeron said Laboy sometimes launched into tirades with her. Other times he acted as if their relationship had never changed, she said.

Bergeron had supervised employees in the school's graphic design department until around 2005, when Laboy took it over. Bergeron said Laboy told her "she didn't need to worry about it."

Gleason, on cross examination, said Bergeron had told grand jurors in April 2010 that her relationship with Laboy was collegial. She also admitted that she gave Laboy a bottle of wine as a Christmas gift, which is a violation of the school's drug and alcohol policy.

In other testimony yesterday, Richard Dokas, the high school facilities director and a licensed master electrician, said he went to Laboy's home a half dozen times to fix timers, a pump and a light affixed to the pool there. Using his school-owned car, Dokas said he also gave Laboy's son rides to work.

Frank Donahue, a former custodian at the central office, also testified that he saw both Laboy and Rivera drinking in his office at night. Donahue said he never saw Laboy drinking in his office until Rivera started working there.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.