EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 22, 2013

Chief wants to fire cop charged with rape

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE — Police Chief John Romero has officially asked Mayor William Lantigua to fire Carlos Gonzalez, a 25-year police veteran who is in a Florida jail awaiting trial on a child rape charge. Gonzalez also remains under investigation on sexual assault allegations in southern New Hampshire.

Held on $165,000 bail, Gonzalez, 48, is barred from leaving Florida even if he is able to post bail, according to court documents.

Romero wrote a letter to Lantigua saying he believes there is sufficient cause to fire Gonzalez for “conduct unbecoming a police officer.” He asked Lantigua, the appointing authority, to “take the necessary steps to terminate Officer Gonzalez employment with the city.”

Lantigua did not return a message seeking comment on the termination request.

Gonzalez is one of three police officers Lantigua has left on the city payroll although they are on administrative leave from the department and facing criminal charges.

Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, who earns $140,000 annually, and patrol officer Pedro J. Lopez, who earns $60,000 per year, are still on the payroll although they were both indicted on criminal charges in September. Gonzalez earns $60,000 annually.

Previously, Lantigua allowed police officer Daron Fraser to stay on paid leave for 29 months, earning $150,000 and continuing to accrue sick time and vacation benefits. Lantigua then allowed Fraser to return to work in January although he can’t carry a firearm because he was convicted of domestic assault and battery.

The state’s Inspector General, who investigates fraud, abuse and waste of taxpayer money, warned Lantigua the city should not be paying police officers who are off the job and indicted on criminal charges.

Earlier this year, Inspector General Glenn Cunha wrote to Lantigua telling him there is state law that gives him the “discretion” and “requires” a public employee under indictment to have their pay halted while suspended.

Lantigua never responded to Cunha’s letter, copies of which were also sent to Romero and Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. A copy of the IG’s letter was obtained through a public records request to Blodgett’s office.

When asked for comment on the letter, however, Blodgett’s spokesperson, Carrie Kimball-Monahan, issued a statement saying, “As you may be aware, the issue of payment of indicted police officers is not within the control or jurisdiction of the D.A.’s office so it is not appropriate for us to comment on it.”

Gonzalez is charged with sexually assaulting a girl while he was on vacation in Haines City, Fla. in July. Haines City is located between Tampa and Orlando.

He was placed on paid administrative leave in December after police learned he was under investigation for sexual assault in Florida. He was formally arraigned in Florida on March 20 on charges of sexual battery on a person age 12 to 18 by a custodian and selling, giving or serving alcohol to a person under age 21.

If he does make bail in Florida, Gonzalez cannot possess or drink alcohol, carry a weapon or have any direct or indirect contact with the victim.

Gonzalez is also under investigation in southern New Hampshire where sexual assault allegations were reported in 2005 in Salem and Newton, N.H., investigators have said.

Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, and Lopez, also a Lantigua political supporter, were both indicted in September.

An Essex County grand jury indicted Bonilla on five extortion, fraud and conspiracy charges for his alleged role in an illegal swap of city owned cars with Bernardo Pena, a local car dealer and Lantigua friend.

Lopez, meanwhile, was indicted for lying to a federal agent and for making arrangements with a local tow company to have cars he ticketed towed by the company in exchange for a stream of benefits.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.