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May 24, 2013

FBI grills Lantigua aide about missing funds

Mayor's absence enters a third week

LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua’s absence from City Hall entered its third week yesterday, as police and FBI agents questioned one of his top political lieutenants about tens of thousands of dollars missing from a city garage where the mayor assigned him three years ago.

The attendant, Justo Garcia, was questioned at police headquarters late Wednesday but was not arrested or charged. He has denied wrongdoing.

Lawrence police and the FBI will not confirm or deny that Garcia is a subject of an investigation.

But amid a swirl of allegations and unsourced press reports, Garcia was sent home when he reported to work at the Museum Square garage yesterday, acting Public Works Director John Isensee said. The garage is two blocks from City Hall.

Garcia will be sent home again today, and on Tuesday will be reassigned to a maintenance job that does not involve handling cash, Isensee said. He said he hoped to have “more clarification” about the allegations next week, but did not elaborate.

“Right now, it’s just allegations,” Isensee said. “But we want to separate him from his normal duties, decide how we’re going to proceed and place him in a position where he won’t have access to funds, pending an audit and a thorough review of what’s going on.”

Garcia is suspected in what has been a plunge in parking collections at the Museum Square garage that may have totaled up to $13,000 a month over the last year or so. His duties included collecting payments for monthly passes at the garage, which typically accepted only checks under former Mayor Michael Sullivan but switched to cash-only payments after Lantigua took office in 2010.

Garcia, a photographer for Lantigua’s political organization, was laid off from a $9-an-hour parking job by former Mayor Michael Sullivan in 2008. Lantigua rehired Garcia in 2010 and promoted him to senior attendant, a newly created job with a $19-an-hour salary that was more than the parking division’s manager was earning, an inequity that was corrected by giving the manager a raise. The has division 21 employees.

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