EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 11, 2014

Bonilla gets hearing on pay suspension

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE - Indicted on bribery and extortion charges, Melix Bonilla hasn’t worked at the police department since Sept. 11, 2012, but has remained on the city payroll, receiving his $138,000 annual salary.

Immediately after taking office on Jan. 2, new Mayor Daniel Rivera ordered Bonilla’s pay suspended.

Yesterday morning, a 27-minute closed door Civil Service hearing on Bonilla’s pay issue was held at City Hall.

Now, a hearing officer will issue a decision indicating whether Rivera was justified in halting Bonilla’s pay and if it should be restored.

After taking office, Rivera also demoted Bonilla from deputy police chief to sergeant until the bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges against him are resolved.

Bonilla is a close friend and political ally of former Mayor William Lantigua and previously served as Lantigua’s mayoral campaign manager. In January 2010, shortly after taking office, Lantigua promoted Bonilla from sergeant to Deputy Police Chief.

Local attorney James Bowers, a former city attorney, served as the hearing officer yesterday in City Council Chambers at City Hall. The hearing was closed to the public because attorneys on either side had not submitted a written request for the hearing to be open.

An Eagle-Tribune reporter, the only member of the public to attend the hearing, was told to leave.

Afterwards, Bowers said he would issue his decision within the next week and declined further comment.

Alex Cain of North Andover, the attorney representing Bonilla in his criminal case, represented Bonilla yesterday. An attorney for the Lawrence superior police officer’s union, of which Bonilla is a member, was not present.

Assistant City Attorney Daniel Cocuzzo and Frank Bonet, the city’s personnel director, attended the hearing on the city’s behalf.

Bonilla is charged with bribery, extortion and conspiracy, stemming from the illegal swap of 13 city-owned vehicles for four Chevrolet Impalas from a Lantigua friend.

His criminal trial is scheduled for April 7.

Rivera has said Bonilla’s pay issue and demotion is part of a larger campaign pledge to reshape the police department. On Thursday, Rivera fired Jay Jackson, the police department’s civilian facilities manager who came under fire in his role as the department’s volunteer auxiliary police chief.

Also, Rivera is moving to fire several other officers with outstanding disciplinary issues, including Daron Fraser, who was convicted to domestic assault and battery and cannot carry a firearm.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.