EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 23, 2012

UPDATE: Laboy apologizes; gets 90 days in jail for fraud

By Jill Harmacinski

LAWRENCE — Former Lawrence School Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy will serve 90 days in jail and one year of house confinement on convictions of using public school resources for personal gain.

Judge Richard Welch in Salem Superior Court today sentenced Laboy, 61, to two years in jail with 90 days to serve.

After his release, Laboy will serve one year of house arrest; three years probation and perform 600 hours of community service.

The sentencing comes the day after a 12-member jury convicted Laboy on five counts of fraud and embezzlement during his nearly 10-year tenure as superintendent. He was on trial for eight days.

Prosecutor Maureen Wilson Leal asked for two years in jail.

Defense attorney Scott Gleason asked for home confinement and probation.

Laboy, who spent the night in the Middleton Jail, arrived in court this morning wearing a suit instead of jail clothes.

He stood before the judge and apologized for his actions.

"I made poor decisions, your honor, and I take full responsibility," he said, adding that he has "nothing but respect for this country and the justice system."

Laboy's wife and daughter and two local church pastors pleaded with the judge for mercy.

Laboy had faced up to 10 years incarceration.

The jury convicted Laboy of using public school resources for his personal gain — specifically to have school graphic designers design and prepare print jobs for an outside educational group, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, and for his son's Sal's Pizza shop in Methuen.

His tenure as superintendent was often marked by controversy and conflict, including a police investigation and counterclaims of assault involving School Committee member Amy C. McGovern in 2005. They were later dropped.

The state Board of Education approved hiring LaBoy as superintendent of the struggling school district in July of 2000.

LaBoy was an assistant superintendent in Community School District 15 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Under a joint agreement signed by the city and the state in 1998, the state Board of Education had to approve the hiring of Lawrence school superintendents.

Even then, there were some concerns at that time that he did not have enough of a background in finances or in secondary education.

He was hired at a salary of $130,000. His contract stipulated that he must live in the city, but he later bought a home in Methuen, claiming he was unable to find a suitable location in Lawrence after touring 30 homes.

By the time he was fired in 2010, Laboy was making more than $200,000 a year.

One high point was the opening in 2007 of a $110 million high school — once the most expensive and modern in the state. "This new state of the art high school will became a national model of modern education," Laboy declared.

Calling it the "lowest point" in his career, Laboy, in April 2009, apologized for the actions of his special assistant Mark Rivera after The Eagle-Tribune revealed Rivera was using school-owned computers and software to run background checks on mayoral candidates, public officials and celebrities. Rivera would later resign.

The following month, Laboy checked himself into Lawrence General Hospital for work-related stress issues amid the controversy surrounding Rivera's so-called "snoop list."

In June 2009, police raided Laboy's offices and his Methuen home, alleging "financial improprieties," seizing computers and other items, and the School Committee suspended him indefinitely with pay.

Nearly a year later, the School Committee fired Laboy after he was indicted on eight counts of fraud and embezzlement.

Laboy was also convicted of using school-paid employees to retrieve trash from and to meet with contractors at his Methuen home, and to drive his adult son Willy to work when he lost his license. Numerous school employees testified they were both on work time and primarily using school vehicles to drive Laboy's son around during the two years he was without a license.

Jurors also found Laboy guilty of illegal possession of alcohol on school premises, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail.

Detectives had seized 16 bottles of alcohol, some of which were opened, from Laboy's school department office at 255 Essex St. Laboy testified that when he worked late he occasionally had a glass of wine in his office.

Jurors did find Laboy not guilty of three fraud and embezzlement counts, charging him with using school-paid employees to pick up his sick grandchildren at school, to fix electrical problems with his pool and to wire computers in his home.

Throughout the trial, witnesses for the prosecution testified Laboy took a $1,500 cash kickback from graphic designer John Laurenza and ordered Mark Rivera, his special assistant, to delete school computer files with incriminating information as rumors of an investigation circulated.

Laboy testified in his own defense on Wednesday, denying he ever took a $1,500 bribe and saying he had nothing to hide and never asked for any computer files to be deleted or for school workers to do outside design and printing jobs for free.