EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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December 6, 2012

DPW laborer with terminally ill wife fired

Former State Rep. Santiago hired on same day


“I’d like the mayor to come to my house and sit on my couch and look at my wife and tell me why I don’t deserve a job,” Sapienza said. “After 10 years of employment with any employer, you’d expect some show of support for the families working for them.”

Ellen Shimer-Brenes, the lawyer Sapienza hired to help him get his job back and his leave re-extended, said Lantigua fired Sapienza to make way for Santiago.

“Tom Sapienza was the perfect scapegoat in this scenario,” Shimer-Brenes said. “He made the difficult decision to take no pay and leave his job, hoping to be able to return to it, to care for his terminally ill wife. What a perfect opportunity to offer the job to – an ally? Foe? Ally? I can’t keep track of it all – to offer Tom’s position for political gain.”

Sapienza’s job was initially filled by former DPW worker Jonell Oquendo, who was given a temporary appointment to when Sapienza went on leave in June. Oquendo left in November, as Santiago’s attempt to end his stint of unemployment and regain his statehouse seat flopped. He won just 14 percent of the vote against incumbent Rep. Marcos Devers.

Three weeks later, on the day Sapienza got a letter telling him he had lost his laborer’s job in the Sewer and Water Department, Lantigua approved hiring Santiago as a temporary employee for the same job, allowing the mayor to bypass a hiring process that begins with publicly posting positions.

Santiago is earning $15-an-hour, the minimum wage for the position. Sapienza earned $18 because of his extra qualifications, including a license to operate heavy machinery.

While he fights to regain his job, Sapienza said his Mass Health insurance won’t pay to move his wife to a hospice because she still has some mobility, although she walks with a cane. Regardless, he said he wants to care for her himself and at home, with twice a week support from visiting hospice nurses.

“The ultimate goal is her comfort, what makes her happy,” Sapienza said. “Unfortunately, there is no happy ending for it. All I can do is make sure that she’s happy during the time she has. If that means keeping her home and taking care of her as opposed to a nurse, then that’s what my wife gets.”

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