EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 19, 2012

Bonilla plea hearing will wait until next year

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Another court delay keeps Jamel Bonilla out of jail until next year.

The son of Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, Jamel Bonilla, 19, was scheduled again yesterday to plead guilty to armed robbery and illegal firearms charges connected to a 2010 drug deal that fell apart.

While attorneys won’t comment on the details of the plea agreement, the firearms charge carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 18 months in county jail.

Yesterday, Bonilla’s plea hearing in Salem Superior Court was delayed because the prosecutor in the case has left to pursue a career in private practice. A new prosecutor, Michael Sheehan, filed an appearance in the case.

Bonilla is now scheduled to plead guilty on Jan. 15, according to court records.

Alex Cain, Bonilla’s defense attorney, declined comment for this article.

In November, another plea hearing was postponed because Judge John Lu, who has presided over the case and approved the undisclosed plea agreement, was not available that day.

Jamel Bonilla is charged with two counts of armed robbery, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail, and illegal possession of a firearm, which carries the 18-month mandatory sentence in Middleton Jail or 2 1/2 years in state prison.

Bonilla was carrying a silver handgun on Oct. 21, 2010, when he and two others tried to rob two men on Caulkins Court in Lawrence, prosecutors said.

The incident was essentially a drug deal that fell apart. Two victims agreed to pay $3,000 for 200 Percocet prescription pills, police said.

A Feb. 4, 2013, trial date was previously set, should the plea deal fall apart. It’s unclear if Bonilla’s co-defendants, Jonathan Vargas, 24, and Jonathan Rodriguez, 20, also from Lawrence, are interested in a plea agreement or are going to trial.

Special prosecutors from Plymouth County were brought in to handle the case because it involves the son of an Essex County police official.

Melix Bonilla has his own legal troubles as well. On Sept. 12, he was arraigned in Salem Superior Court on bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges related to an ongoing criminal investigation into Mayor William Lantigua and his administration.

The elder Bonilla was Lantigua’s campaign manager who was promoted from sergeant to deputy chief once Lantigua became mayor in January 2010. He received a $45,000 pay raise.

Melix Bonilla is accused of swapping 13 city-owned vehicles for four Chevrolets. He was relieved of duty of stripped of his gun, badge, work ID, cell phone and cruiser after indictments were handed down on Sept. 11.

While indicted, he remains on the payroll, receiving his $140,000 annual salary. Lantigua has the authority to stop those payments, but hasn’t done so even at the request of Police Chief John Romero.

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