EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 23, 2013

Mayor overseas as another supporter under scrutiny

LAWRENCE — As federal investigators reportedly close in on a parking attendant who allegedly skimmed tens of thousands of dollars from the till at a city garage, the man who hired and promoted the attendant has not been seen at City Hall for two weeks.

Mayor William Lantigua left for the Dominican Republic and Florida on May 9 or 10 to accompany his wife, Lorenza Ortega, to her grandfather’s funeral. He has not returned and has not been in touch with his top aides for several days, even while the deadline for submitting one of his most difficult operating budgets is just days away.

Lantigua did not respond to messages left at his City Hall office yesterday. But several city councilors and rival candidates for mayor, along with the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, reacted angrily to the disclosure that another city employee and Lantigua confidant is the target of a criminal probe.

Robert Nunes, the overseer responsible for monitoring city revenues and spending, announced he will conduct “a full, top-to-bottom examination of internal controls, policies, procedures and protocols for the collection and handling of funds at all city parking lots and garages.”

“I expect full cooperation,” Nunes’ said in a forcefully worded e-mail to Lantigua announcing the investigation into how up to $13,000 a month collected from monthly parking fees at the Museum Square garage allegedly went missing.

Parking attendant Justo Garcia, the target of the probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was the photographer for Lantigua’s first mayoral campaign in 2009 and is a foot soldier in the mayor’s ongoing re-election effort.

He was laid off from a parking job by former Mayor Michael Sullivan in 2008 and rehired by Lantigua in 2010, then promoted to lead parking attendant — a newly created position that would have made him the best-paid of the parking division’s 21 employees had its manager not been given a raise to correct the inequity. He now earns $19 an hour to oversee collections at the garage on Appleton Street, which is two blocks from City Hall. Last year, he earned a total of $39,520.

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