By Brian Messenger
---- — LAWRENCE — Former assistant city solicitor Richard D’Agostino says he has been questioned by authorities and is cooperating with the ongoing criminal investigation into Mayor William Lantigua’s administration.
D’Agostino, who was fired from the city in April 2012 after returning from a 16-month medical leave, spoke of his involvement in the Lantigua investigation yesterday during an exclusive interview with The Eagle-Tribune.
“To the extent that I am capable,” said D’Agostino, when asked if he was cooperating with criminal investigators. “My only regret is that I didn’t know even more. Because I (was) willing to give up my job and I did for that reason. And believe me, it’s been difficult.”
Lantigua and members of his administration were identified in April 2011 as targets in a multi-jurisdictional investigation involving allegations of corruption, bid rigging, suspicious out-of-state travel, campaign finance violations and vehicle shipments to the Dominican Republic. Two of the mayor’s top deputies — former Chief of Staff Leonard Degnan and Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla — were indicted in the probe last year and charged with bribery, extortion, and conspiracy charges.
D’Agostino is one of two finalists for Methuen’s solicitor job. The City Council is expected to take a deciding vote on the hire Monday. In a public job interview with the council earlier this week, D’Agostino said he lost his job in Lawrence because he “stood up to a corrupt mayor.”
“Someone needs to stand up and at least say, ‘No,’ to the reign of terror that’s gone on in Lawrence,” D’Agostino told councilors.
D’Agostino was hired as Lawrence’s assistant city solicitor in 2005. Yesterday, D’Agostino stood by his comments during the interview and said he now considers his decision to publicly back Lantigua’s historic 2009 mayoral run as “terrible, horrible” judgement.
“He fooled us all,” said D’Agostino. “At first I felt like an idiot. I now feel like I guess I wasn’t the only one ... Unfortunately, I got in the car with a guy that was driving over a cliff and I didn’t realize that until the cliff was there.”
A call to Lantigua was not returned for this story yesterday.
D’Agostino said Lantigua hasn’t represented the best interests of Lawrence since taking office in 2010. He criticized the mayor for keeping indicted police officers like Bonilla on the city payroll, and for knowingly violating labor contracts and then rejecting settlement agreements, forcing the city to pay back damages as a result.
“You just have to read the newspaper to know he’s corrupt,” said D’Agostino. “He may not be criminal. We’ll find out. But he’s certainly corrupt.”
D’Agostino said the first time he stood up to Lantigua was shortly after he announced his intention to run for mayor. Lantigua asked D’Agostino to serve as his campaign finance chairman, but he declined, citing his status as a city employee, D’Agostino said. Public employees are barred from most campaign fundraising activity.
Once in office, D’Agostino said Lantigua “didn’t listen, rejected and even chastised me for” his legal advice. D’Agostino said Lantigua’s favorite expression was, “Let a judge tell me.”
“I’m waiting for the day a judge tells him, ‘How do you plead?” said D’Agostino.
D’Agostino said he was quickly “excommunicated” from the administration’s decision making process to the point where he wasn’t allowed to consult with the mayor or even enter his office. He said his “final blowout” came in March 2010. He said his caseload was conspicuously built up in what he believes was an effort to drive him out of City Hall.
D’Agostino was fired the day he returned from a 16-month medical leave. Following his firing, D’Agostino sued Lawrence in an effort to get his job back and collect $300,000 in damages, or the estimated balance of his work contract with the city.
“The last thing I expected was never to return to work at Lawrence City Hall,” said D’Agostino.