By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Leonard Degnan and Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, two of Mayor William Lantigua’s former top political allies, are scheduled for trial separately in their bribery, extortion and conspiracy cases in early 2014.
During an appearance yesterday in Salem Superior Court, Judge Timothy Feeley scheduled Degnan’s criminal trial for March 10. Bonilla is scheduled to follow on April 7.
Degnan and Bonilla will have separate criminal trials, although both men were indicted together on Sept. 11, 2012 and have appeared in court at the same time since their arraignments the following day.
Degnan is accused of pressuring a city trash hauler to donate a truck to Lantigua’s native Dominican Republic. Bonilla, meanwhile, is accused of swapping 13 city-owned vehicles for four Chevrolet Impalas from a Lantigua friend.
“The facts are very divergent. There are no common threads. The accusations are completely separate and distinct,” said Ted Cranney, Degnan’s lead defense attorney. “Mr. Degnan looks forward to his day in court and I expect he will be fully exonerated,” Cranney said.
Alex Cain, Bonilla’s defense attorney, agreed with Cranney about the diversity of the cases. “Each case has nothing to do with the other,” Cain said.
Cain said Bonilla is also looking forward to trial “where he can challenge his accusers and demonstrate how frivolous the government’s case against him is.”
An April 2014 trial date could mean Bonilla, who earns $140,000 annually, could stay on the city payroll for some 17 months after indictment.
When the indictments were handed down, Bonilla was placed on paid administrative leave and stripped of his gun, badge, police cruiser and other department credentials. Despite requests from city officials, Lantigua, the appointing authority, has refused to take Bonilla, his former campaign manager, off the city payroll.
Bonilla and Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, were charged as part of an ongoing investigation into Lantigua and members of his administration.
More than two years ago, Lantigua was identified as a target in a multi-jurisdictional investigation that involved allegations of corruption, bid rigging, suspicious out-of-state travel, campaign finance violations as well as the shipment of cars and a trash truck to the Dominican Republic.
To date, Lantigua, who is seeking his second term as mayor in November, has not been charged and maintains his innocence.
Degnan, owner of a Salem Street insurance company, served as Lantigua’s chief of staff from January 2010 to May 2011, when he abruptly resigned. He testified in Boston before a federal grand jury investigating Lantigua and his administration shortly after.
Both Degnan and Bonilla are due back in Superior Court on Sept. 11.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.