EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 6, 2013

Former state rep Santiago arrested

Police: Recently hired city worker violated restraining order

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Fired police sergeant and former state Rep. Jose Santiago, recently hired as a city worker in a controversial move by Mayor William Lantigua, was arrested early yesterday for violating a protective restraining order obtained by his ex-girlfriend.

Santiago, 53, of 391 Chestnut St., #130, was arrested outside a club at 98 Essex St. at 12:20 a.m. on a warrant for violating the restraining order. Santiago was arrested by officers working the weekend night club detail shift in the downtown area, according to a police report.

On Wednesday, Santiago’s ex-girlfriend filed for the restraining order in Lawrence District Court. He allegedly violated the restraining order on Thursday outside a local night club, prompting police to issue a warrant for his arrest on Friday, according to police and court papers.

It was unclear why the woman filed for the restraining order. A copy of the order was not available yesterday.

Santiago was held without bail at Middleton Jail pending arraignment Monday in Lawrence District Court.

After he was taken into custody police asked Santiago if he had a vehicle parked nearby. He replied no, saying he has a suspended driver’s license. When he goes out, Santiago said he hires a driver, according to a police report.

Santiago, at times a political ally of Lantigua, was hired on Nov. 26 as a $15 per hour temporary worker in the public works department. He was hired in the public works department when DPW worker Tom Sapienza, 41, was let go from his eight-year laborer’s job because he had been on unpaid leave since August caring for his terminally ill wife, Heather.

Heather Sapienza, 40, died Thursday after a 19-month fight against cancer.

Tom Sapienza was delivered a pink slip, saying he not longer had a city laborer’s job, the Monday after Thanksgiving. Sapienza earned $18 per hour and has said he will seek to regain his job and return to work full-time.

It was not immediately clear yesterday if a valid driver’s license is a requirement for Santiago’s city job.

However, City Councilor Daniel Rivera called for Santiago’s immediate firing.

“Restraining orders are in place to protect the applicant. We have to deal appropriately with people who break them,” Rivera said.

Fellow City Councilor Marc Laplante noted Santiago, as a former police officer, “should know better than to violate a court-ordered restraining order.”

Santiago was fired from the Methuen police department in 2004 for refusing to take a retraining course at his own expense. He was also state representative in the 1990s, preceding Lantigua’s term in the legislature.

“As an outside observer, it sure appears as though he is facing a personal hardship,” Laplante said. “I am interested in learning how the mayor chooses to deal with a temporary employee who is charged with breaking the law. If he is a Lantigua friend, I would expect him to be working and getting paid on Monday.”

Lantigua could not be reached for comment for this story.

In addition to Santiago’s hiring, Lantigua has also come under fire for leaving two friends and political supporters on the city payroll after they were indicted on felony criminal charges and suspended from work.

Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s campaign manager, was indicted on Sept. 11 on five criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the illegal swap of 13 city vehicles. Bonilla, who earns $140,000 annually, is still be paid by the city although he hasn’t worked the police department since the day he was indicted.

Officer P.J. Lopez, who earns $62,000 annually, was indicted on federal charges on Sept. 26. He also remains on paid suspension after he was charged with making arrangements with a local tow company in exchange for a “stream of benefits.”

Police Chief John Romero asked for Bonilla and Lopez’s pay to be halted. However, Lantigua, the appointing authority, has refused to do so.

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