EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 7, 2014

Grand jury probes paving work

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — A federal grand jury is investigating whether Mayor William Lantigua had his re-election in mind when he ordered a sudden blitz of street pavings in the final weeks of the campaign last year, including some streets that were paved without a contract and others that were paved too late in the year to be sealed.

City Engineer Andrew Wall, who oversaw the $800,000 paving projects, was among the first of at least three city employees subpoenaed this week to appear before the grand jury at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston.

Wall said FBI agents picked him up at City Hall on Tuesday and drove him to the courthouse, where an assistant U.S. attorney questioned him for three hours about the paving work, including whether Lantigua told him to have it done in time for the Nov. 5 election. Most of the work was paid for by the state.

Lantigua promoted the work relentlessly through his failed bid for a second term, marking the newly paved streets with signs bearing his name, describing the work in interviews and at rallies, and posting hundreds of photos of the work on his Facebook page, including several in which he appeared to be directing the work crews himself.

In an earlier interview, Wall said Lantigua was “driving the boat” on the paving projects and said his interest appeared to be driven by the election.

He backed off slightly from that assertion during an interview outside his office yesterday, when he said Lantigua “never directly (mentioned the election), but it was implied.” He would not elaborate.

Mayor Daniel Rivera, who defeated Lantigua by 83 votes, said yesterday that the FBI also has subpoenaed commissioners and department heads in its investigation into the paving work. He would not say who.

“I know that they’re talking to department heads and it seems like it’s the appropriate thing to do,” Rivera said. “We’ll stay focused on public safety and job creation. If asked, we’ll support the investigation, but the mayor’s office has not been asked.”

Lantigua did not return a phone call yesterday. Attorney Jeffrey Denner, who represented Lantigua before another grand jury that indicted a city parking attendant last year for allegedly skimming proceeds at a garage, could not be reached.

Besides summoning Wall and the other city workers to the grand jury, the subpoenas direct them to turn over any correspondence they had with Lantigua involving paving projects done by Highway Rehabilitation Corp., the New York company that did the work, since Jan. 1, 2010, a few days before Lantigua took office.

The Eagle-Tribune last week filed a request under the state Public Records Law seeking copies of emails between Wall and Lantigua involving the paving work. City Attorney Charles Boddy rejected the request yesterday, citing a clause in the law that allows public agencies to withhold records that may be evidence in a criminal investigation.

The newspaper reported in January that Wall asked Highway Rehab to continue paving city streets after its $84,979 contract for the work ran out in August, the month before the preliminary election for mayor. City Purchasing Agent Rita Brousseau stopped the added work when the invoices began arriving, but by then the overrun had reached $294,444.

Wall said he acted at Lantigua’s direction.

David Capelle, Highway Rehab’s marketing and sales officer, agreed.

“We were assured we would be paid by the mayor at the time,” Capelle told the City Council in a plea to be paid for the work on Jan. 29. “We were assured there wouldn’t be a problem.”

Rivera said he won’t pay the bill because the work was done without bidding or a contract, in violation of state procurement law.

In a subsequent story, The Eagle-Tribune reported that while it was awaiting payment of the $294,444 for the first paving job, the company bid for and won a second paving job from the city, for $397,148, about a month before the general election on Nov. 5. But after winning the contract, the company advised Lantigua that it was too late in the year to seal the asphalt with a top coat that would protect it against the elements and agreed to do the work only if Lantigua signed a waiver releasing the company from liability.

Lantigua signed the waiver on Oct. 1.

Much of the pavement along the 16 streets that were done under the contract broke up over the winter.

“Highway Rehab Corp. is not responsible for damaged or buckling roads caused by the winter weather,” company president Ken Carr told Eagle-Tribune Editor Al White last month in an email that attached the waiver. “We recommended that this work not be done because it was too late in the season to do phase two of the process, the surface treatment. We told the city that we could not warranty such work and recommended the job wait until the spring of 2014. Mr. Wall insisted we do the job.”

Highway Rehab has received a subpoena for documents from the grand jury investigating the work. Capelle, company president Carr and company lawyer Matthew Caffrey did not return phone calls yesterday.

FBI spokesman Greg Comcowich would not comment on the investigation.

The paving projects were funded mostly under the state’s Chapter 90 program, which provides aid to localities for paving and other street work. The federal government does not fund the program, so it is unclear what federal law may have been violated to trigger U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s investigation.

Last year, former state Treasurer Tim Cahill paid $100,000 to settle charges that he violated state ethics laws by running $600,000 in Lottery advertising while he was a candidate for governor in 2010. Those charges were brought by state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Investigators for Coakley also have questioned Lawrence city employees about the paving work done by Highway Rehab.