EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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June 16, 2013

Jobs, allegations add up at garages

LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua laid off dozens of cops and firefighters to balance his first budget in 2010, causing the state and federal governments to step in with millions of dollars to rehire all of the firefighters and many of the cops.

But the payroll at another city operation began ballooning shortly after Lantigua’s inauguration on Jan. 4, 2010.

Employment in the parking division — which this month was thrust to center of ongoing federal and state corruption investigations at City Hall — has more than doubled under Lantigua, from nine workers to 21, including some of the mayor’s campaign aides and their relatives.

Chief among them is Justo Garcia, whom state police handcuffed outside City Hall on June 6 on charges that he skimmed thousands of dollars from the money he was collecting for monthly passes at the Museum Square garage. Lantigua hired Garcia on April 5, 2010, three months after taking office. He previously worked there under Mayor Michael Sullivan but left.

Five months after that, Garcia’s daughter, Jatnna Mercedes, also appeared on the Museum Square payroll. Mercedes has not been charged. Her father has pleaded not guilty.

A second parking attendant, Felix Matos, is accused in a state police affidavit of receiving stolen parking receipts from Garcia. He has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

Matos was hired by former Mayor Michael Sullivan. Lantigua hired his Matos’ wife Maria Pla to manage the office at the Buckley garage on April 4, 2011, payroll records show.

Both Garcia and Matos were at their city jobs through the end of last week, although acting Public Works Director John Isensee moved Garcia from the Museum Square garage to a maintenance job on Monday. Matos was in his booth at a city lot on Essex Street through Friday, collecting fees from drivers at the lot, which like the Museum Square garage deals in cash only, according to signs at their entrances.

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