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April 11, 2012

State watchdog: Lawrence police lost $30K in illegal car swap

LAWRENCE — The police department broke state and federal law and lost more than $30,000 two years ago when it swapped 13 vehicles for four Chevrolets with a used car salesman connected to Mayor William Lantigua.

That's according to a letter sent to Lantigua yesterday by state Inspector General Gregory Sullivan. The letter details a 2010 transaction with Santo Domingo Motors that landed the police department four Chevy Impalas in exchange for 13 cars the city seized in drug busts — including a Cadillac and a Lexus. The deal was brokered by Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla.

In his letter, Sullivan wrote the car swap "suggests the need for clear procedures and better oversight," and made several recommendations to the city for improvement.

Sullivan wrote the police department broke state laws for procurement and controlled substances and federal civil forfeiture law when it struck a deal with Santo Domingo Motors, rather than using competitive sealed bids, public auction or established markets.

The inspector general also questioned the department's methodology in the transaction, which was executed by Bonilla. Bonilla managed Lantigua's 2009 mayoral campaign and remains a top political ally.

Sullivan wrote the department appeared "to have disregarded the taxpayers' and its own interests" by transferring property worth $36,398 more than what it got in return.

A private valuation of the city's 13 vehicles in July 2010 by Wayne Demers of Motta Auto Body in Methuen set their value at between $18,000 and $26,000. But a state Department of Revenue estimate based on the Kelley Blue Book set the value at $66,048.

Sullivan wrote yesterday that Santo Domingo Motors sold the 13 vehicles — which ranged in year from 1996 to 2005 — for a collective $61,350.

Demers valued the four Impalas at a "range in total between $24,000 to $28,000." The state estimated their value at $30,010, according to Sullivan's letter.

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