LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua makes more than $100,000 a year, but taxpayers are helping pay to heat the condominium he shares with his girlfriend.
Lorenza Ortega, a $45,000-a-year City Hall employee, acknowledged yesterday she collects federal fuel aid to heat the Boxford Street condo that Lantigua now calls home. She refused to say how much she collected this year, but the annual subsidy could have been as high as $1,165.
"I just applied like everyone does," Ortega said. "I called up. I applied. They gave it to me. Nothing special."
Depending on how many of her children share the house, Ortega may have been eligible for the subsidy before Lantigua moved in. But with a combined income of $145,000, she and Lantigua could have 15 children living in the condo and still exceed the federal ceiling for eligibility by almost $50,000.
Ortega initially said she began receiving the subsidy "a couple of years ago," then said she began receiving it last year. But she cut off an interview in her City Hall office yesterday before she could be asked about the size of her household or when Lantigua moved in. Lantigua did not return phone calls.
In Lawrence, the federal heating subsidies are distributed by the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, an anti-poverty agency a block from City Hall where Lantigua has been working to exert influence since two days after he took the oath as mayor. On Jan. 6, 2010, Lantigua wrote the agency's board of directors demanding that three members of the board be removed and replaced by his aides and associates.
Lantigua attempted to engineer another coup on the board last month, after The Eagle-Tribune disclosed that GLCAC's executive director was spending workdays playing cards and video poker at the Elks Club on Andover Street. Lantigua called the disclosure "a fiasco," blamed it on the board of directors and demanded state regulators undertake a broad investigation into the agency.
"What has been reported in the media is just a part of it," Lantigua said at a March 23 meeting at the Statehouse in Boston that state Sen. Barry Finegold called to discuss the revelations in the newspaper story. "There is much, much more."
The state Division of Housing and Community Development last month issued a highly critical assessment of GLCAC's management, which led to the resignation of at least five board members, including chairman Thomas Schiavone.
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the department refused comment on the heating subsidies that GLCAC is providing to the condo Ortega shares with Lantigua. The spokeswoman, Kimberly Haberlin, issued a general statement when asked for a reaction.
"While privacy rules and protections prevent us from confirming whether any individual is receiving benefits, DHCD takes the administration and eligibility requirements of LIHEAP very seriously and is continuously monitoring the program to ensure that benefits are going to eligible recipients," Haberlin said.
Thomas Perrault, who took over as acting chairman of GLCAC's' board following Schiavone resignation last week, said the board does not become involved in the details of the programs it oversees.
"That's agency business," he said. "We don't meddle in the details."
Linda Soucy, who directs the heating subsidy program at GLCAC, did not return a message left at GLCAC headquarters on Essex Street. Chick LoPiano, who took over as acting executive director at GLCAC when former executive director Philip Laverriere resigned following The Eagle-Tribune story, hung up on a reporter calling for comment.
Ortega bought Unit A at 86 Boxford Street in South Lawrence for $185,000 on Nov. 30, 2006, records in the city assessor's office show. The three-bedroom unit is now assessed at $108,000, the records show.
The heating subsidy Ortega receives could reach $1,165 a year, depending on the income and size of the household that she reported and whether she heats with gas, electricity or oil, according to a formula published on the website for the Department of Housing and Community Development. The money is paid to the company that provides the energy source, not to the consumer.
According to GLCAC's website, applicants must document "their gross household revenue of all household members 18 years of age and older."
Although it's unclear when Lantigua moved in, he confirmed during the state-of-the-city address he delivered to the City Council last week that he now lives there. He went so far as to spell the street name.
"William Lantigua, mayor of the great City of Lawrence," Lantigua said as he introduced himself to the council. "Residing at 86 Boxford St. B-O-X-F-O-R-D Street - not avenue."
The sudden disclosure startled observers and capped three years of speculation about where Lantigua lives, which Lantigua did little to dispel in earlier addresses to the council. The mayor persistently resisted efforts by City Council President Frank Moran to provide his address whenever he spoke to the council. Instead, Lantigua regularly offered his address as "City Hall."
Records in the city's election division show Lantigua changed his address from 48 Chestnut St. to 61 Oak St. on Dec. 13, 2007.
Speculation about whether Lantigua lived at that address began only a few months after the change, when Marcos Devers began a campaign for the 15 Essex District House Lantigua held by insisting Lantigua lived outside the district. Devers was not specific, but the Boxford Street condo is outside the 15th district.
A woman suing the city for wrongful termination and discrimination — allegedly brought on by the problems she said Lantigua and Ortega's relationship caused — has testified that the two have been together at least since September 2008. The suit was filed by Dora Marco, a former clerk in the personnel office who lost her job about a month after Lantigua took office.
Schiavone, the former GLCAC board chairman, also lost his job as the city's Director of Economic Development after Lantigua became mayor. He represented Lawrence and Methuen for 14 years on the board, where he survived Lantigua's efforts to drive him from the board while he was losing his job at City Hall.
"That's amazing to me," Schiavone said yesterday about the heating subsidies Ortega receives at the apartment she shares with Lantigua. "For a person who has directly gone after the integrity of the GLCAC for years, this news is startling. It goes to the adage, 'Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.'"
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