LAWRENCE – The state’s Inspector General, who investigates fraud, abuse and waste of taxpayer money, has warned Mayor William Lantigua the city should not be paying police officers who are off the job and indicted on criminal charges.
However, Lantigua continues to pay police officers who aren’t working and awaiting trial.
“These actions disregard the financial safeguards contained in (state law) which are in place to curtail wasteful spending on city employees (police officers and civilians) who are under indictment for crimes allegedly committed against the very same taxpayers who pay the salaries of these employees,” Inspector General Glenn Cunha wrote to Lantigua on Jan. 15.
A copy of Cunha’s letter was obtained by The Eagle Tribune through a public records request to Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. Copies of the letter were sent to Lantigua, Blodgett and Police Chief John Romero.
As mayor and appointing authority, Lantigua must call for the indicted officer’s salaries to be halted. Despite requests from Cunha, Romero and city councilors, Lantigua has left indicted and charged officers on the city payroll.
For two years, Lantigua and members of his administration have been the focus of a state and federal investigation into corruption, bid rigging, suspicious out-of-state travel, illegal car swaps, campaign finance violations as well as shipments of vehicles to the Dominican Republic, Lantigua’s native county.
Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, who earns $140,000 annually, and patrol Officer Pedro J. Lopez, who makes $60,000 per year, are still being paid although they were both indicted on criminal charges in September. Fellow Officer Carlos Gonzalez, who is in a Florida jail awaiting trial on a child rape charge, is still being paid his $60,000 annual salary. Gonzalez has been on paid administrative leave since December.
Previously, police Officer Daron Fraser was on paid leave for 29 months, earning $150,000 and continuing to accrue sick and vacation time and retirement benefits. Lantigua allowed Fraser to return to work in January although he can’t carry a firearm because he was convicted of domestic assault and battery.