EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 3, 2013

Lantigua hit with $5,475 tax lien

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua recently praised himself from saving the city from bankruptcy and constructing balanced budgets. But yesterday Lantigua himself was slapped with a lien for failing to pay income tax.

Five days after announcing he was running for re-election, Lantigua yesterday got hit with a $5,475 lien for failing to pay state income tax in 2011. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue filed the lien with the Essex County Registry of Deeds at 1:05 p.m.

Lantigua, city mayor since January 2010, owes $4,765 in unpaid taxes and another $710 in fees, penalties and interest, according to the lien.

His address on the lien is 86A Boxford St., property owned by his girlfriend, Lorenza Ortega, a confidential secretary in the City Hall personnel department.

The lien, filed against Lantigua personally because he doesn't own any property, is "one of the final steps," the state takes to recoup unpaid taxes, said Ann Dufrense, DOR spokeswoman.

Dufresne, speaking generally about the lien process, said DOR also makes numerous attempts to contact the taxpayer, garnish paychecks and recoup tax money from Internal Revenue Service payments or insurance settlement money.

It was unclear yesterday if there was ever any attempt to garnish Lantigua's $100,000 annual mayoral salary.

The tax lien adds to Lantigua's personal financial issues. The mayor already owes the state $5,000 for failure to file campaign finance disclosure forms by Jan. 20, 2011. In September, after those $25-per-day fines maxed out at $5,000, the state's Office of Campaign and Political Finance turned the debt over to a private collection agency.

Lantigua and his administration also remain the focus of a state and federal investigation that involves bid rigging, suspicious out-of-country travel, an illegal car swap deal and shipment of a trash truck, two ambulances and school bus to the Dominican Republic.

Two Lantigua allies, Leonard Degnan, his former chief of staff, and Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, were indicted on 10 criminal counts stemming from the ongoing probe in September. Degnan is accused of forcing a city trash hauler to donate a truck for the Dominican Republic. Bonilla, Lantigua's campaign manager, is the alleged architect of an illegal swap of 13 city-owned cars for four Impala sedans.

Nonetheless, Lantigua announced Friday night he's running for a second term.

In an interview, he touted several accomplishments over the past few years including bringing the city back from near-bankruptcy and erasing a $30 million deficit.

He also cited several balanced city budgets, repaved city streets and a drop in unemployment as his strengths. "We are moving in the right direction," Lantigua told the Eagle-Tribune Friday.

He did not return a message seeking comment for this story.

Over the past three years, Lantigua has worked closely with Robert Nunes, appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick as the city's fiscal overseer. Nunes is also a DOR official. He could not be reached for comment for this story.

If the mayor is looking for guidance with the lien and fines, Lantigua can turn to his top aide, Patrick Blanchette, the city's Chief Economic Development Director. A former city councilor and failed mayoral candidate, Blanchette in January 2009 was assessed a $9,000 fine for unpaid taxes, penalty and interest.

He's previously said he's repaying the debt but has refused to specify the terms of his payment plan.

Then, in September 2010, Blanchette agreed to pay a $20,000 fine to the state for misuse of his campaign funds, including 10 checks totalling $12,985 he wrote to himself.

Blanchette earns $86,000 as chief economic development director.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.