By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — In December 2009, just a month after William Lantigua was elected Lawrence mayor, Stanley Walczak said he was called to a meeting with Lantigua’s incoming chief of staff, Leonard Degnan.
Public works director Frank McCann told him about the meeting and the two met with Degnan at his private insurance company office on Salem Street in Lawrence, Walczak testified in Superior Court yesterday.
A “hostile” Degnan told him he was the “right hand” of Lantigua and he could “rip up” the city’s three year, $6.4 million contract with Allied Waste if he wanted to, Walczak said. As the meeting continued, Walczak said Degnan told him Lantigua was looking for donations from large companies that do business with the city.
Walczak said Degnan asked if Allied could donate two trash trucks to the Dominican Republic to Lawrence’s “sister city Tenares.”
Walczak, who was fired from Allied two years later, said he felt both “threatened” and “squeezed” by Degnan. No person or municipality he did business with had ever asked him for such a donation before. The meeting was “unprofessional and uncomfortable,” he told jurors yesterday.
But after the meeting, Walczak arranged for the donation of a one trash truck, which was emblazoned with Lantigua’s name, and sent to the Dominican Republic, he testified.
Degnan, of North Andover, is accused of criminally pressuring Walczak to donate a trash truck to the Dominican Republic to keep Allied’s trash removal contract with the city. Yesterday was the first day of testimony in the long-awaited Lantigua City Hall corruption trial and Walczak, one of the prosecution’s first witnesses, spent a good part of the day testifying.
Formally charged with bribery, extortion and conspiracy, Degnan was Lantigua’s paid chief of staff from January 2010 to May 2011. Shortly after giving his notice, Degnan testified before a federal grand jury investigating Lantigua and allegations of corruption.
As the prosecution’s first order of business, Degnan’s 2011 testimony before the federal grand jury was read into evidence. Under questioning by an assistant United States attorney, Degnan told federal grand jurors he was friends with Lantigua for many years and agreed to be his chief of staff when he was elected mayor. However, he left the City Hall job due to increasing stress involving the media, he said.
He told grand jurors about a post-election trip he and his wife, Lantigua and his girlfriend, Lorenza Ortega, along with Bernardo Pena, a Lawrence businessman, and his girlfriend, took to the Dominican Republic. They all stayed in Pena’s home in Santiago during the November 2009 trip, Degnan said.
At the federal grand jury, Degnan acknowledged local companies were being asked for donations for the Dominican Republic and that he did some of the asking. When asked about the solicitation of the trash truck for Tenares, Degnan said, “Obviously it was the mayor’s idea,” according to the testimony read in court yesterday.
Degnan was also asked if he knew of Lantigua taking any bribes. “To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen any bribes to the Mayor of Lawrence,” Degnan said.
Walczak, during his testimony yesterday, said after the meeting with McCann and Degnan, he found a 1999 trash truck that was suitable for donation. Despite Degnan’s request for two trucks, Walczak said he was only going with one. He estimated the truck could be sold at auction for $1,500 to $2,500.
When asked by prosecutor Michael Patten why he didn’t want to go to the police, Walczak said he didn’t want to lose the multi-million dollar contract with the city of Lawrence. “We did have a truck available. I did not want to get into a legal battle,” Walczak said, later adding he didn’t wanted to get off on the right foot with Lantigua’s new administration.
But under cross examination by Ted Cranney, Degnan’s defense attorney, Walczak agreed the donated trash truck was “obsolete by industry standards.”
Also under questioning by Cranney, Walczak admitted he was fired from Allied Waste in January 2011 for lying about an Allied employee’s worker compensation case. After he was fired from Allied, Walczak took a job with another trash company, Russell Disposal. While he was with Russell, Walczak said he tried to obtain another trash contract with the city of Lawrence.
During his cross examination, Cranney also showed some inconsistencies between what Walczak told authorities and what he later testified to at grand juries, including that he told FBI agents that while he was Allied Waste’s general manager he didn’t feel pressured to donate the trash truck to the Dominican Republic.
Cranney asked point blank if Degnan ever threatened to rip up Allied’s trash contract with Lawrence if a trash truck wasn’t donated.
“No, he didn’t,” Walczak said.
Cranney also presented grand jury minutes where Walczak testified he didn’t think Degnan’s concern over the trash contract and the trash truck donation were related.
On redirect from Patten, Walczak said he never heard from Degnan again on waste issues after the trash truck was donated to the Dominican Republic.
The final witness of the day was William Cash, Allied’s maintenance manager, who prepped the trash truck prior to its donation. Lantigua went to Tyngsboro, where the truck was stored, prior to it’s delivery. Cash testified he was accompanied by other Latino men who he was told were from Lantigua’s “home country.” Degnan was not with them, Cash testified.
Cash said the truck was repainted, $800 worth of newer tires were installed over a four hour period. He also said vinyl decals reading “Donated by Mayor Lantigua,” were applied to the truck. Doherty Sign in Dracut made the Lantigua signs at a cost of $54. Allied paid for it, Cash said.
The trial resumes this morning in Lawrence Superior Court.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.