EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

March 29, 2013

Bonilla's lawyer says 'evidence is thin' in case against Lantigua

LAWRENCE — Throughout voluminous grand jury minutes, Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla is repeatedly accused of conspiring with Mayor William Lantigua and fellow political supporter Bernardo Pena, according to Bonilla’s defense attorney.

So why haven’t these “unindicted co-conspirators,” as they are described, been hit with criminal charges, attorney Alex Cain asked yesterday.

“I suggest because the evidence is that thin,” Cain said, answering his own question during a hearing in Superior Court in Salem yesterday.

Cain is trying to get five criminal charges against Bonilla dismissed. Extortion, conspiracy and fraud charges were leveled against Bonilla — Lantigua’s former campaign manager, for his alleged role in the illegal swap of city-owned cars with Pena, the owner of Santo Domingo Motors in Lawrence.

In December, Cain filed Bonilla’s motion to dismiss. This week, the prosecution came back swinging, with three assistant district attorney’s authoring 69 pages of opposition prior to yesterday’s hearing. Prosecutor Michael Patten, in court yesterday, said Bonilla was driven to commit crimes “by his allegiance to Mayor William Lantigua and his political circle.”

The prosecutors, citing various case law, also pointed to the role of the grand jury in handing down indictments.

“Determination of the ‘weight and credibility of evidence’ supporting probable cause is ‘wholly for the grand jury,’” wrote Patten and fellow assistant district attorneys Michael Sheehan and Philip Mallard, citing the 2009 Massachusetts Appeals Court case Commonwealth v. Riley.

Also, referring to a 1993 case, Commonweath v. Roman, “The evidence of probable cause ‘must consist of reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a reasonable or prudent person in believing the defendant has committed the offense,’” the prosecutors added.

Judge sealed grand jury minutes

Judge John Lu will issue his decision on the motion to dismiss in the near future. Lu sealed grand jury minutes attached to Cain’s motion to dismiss along with the prosecution’s response yesterday. The Eagle-Tribune obtained copies of both documents when they were filed publicly prior to yesterday’s hearing.

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