EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 23, 2012

Bonilla attempts to get his case dismissed

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE — Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla faces five criminal counts stemming from his alleged role in an illegal car swap.

His attorney Alex Cain this week filed a motion to dismiss, saying prosecutors have not proven Bonilla threatened other workers, conspired with Mayor William Lantigua, misused his official position as deputy chief or engaged in any scheme to defraud the city in the car swap — which involved the exchange of 13 city-owned cars for four Chevrolet Impalas.

“The mere fact that Melix Bonilla worked for Mayor Lantigua and that the mayor allegedly supported the transfer of department motor vehicles ... does not establish the existence of an agreement or even a conspiracy,” wrote Cain, as he tries to erase a conspiracy charge against Bonilla.

A court hearing on the motion will be held early next year.

Bonilla’s co-defendant, Leonard Degnan was also in court Friday. Degnan, who is Lantigua’s former chief of staff, also faces five bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges for his alleged pressure on the city’s former trash hauler, Allied Waste, to donate a trash truck to Lantigua’s native Dominican Republic.

The grand jury transcript shows a trash truck, two ambulances and a school bus were all shipped to the Dominican Republic after Lantigua became mayor in January 2010. Lantigua receptionist Jorge Jaime arranged the overseas shipments of the trash truck, two ambulances and school bus through Santo Domingo Motors in Lawrence, a business owned Bernardo Pena, a longtime friend and Lantigua political supporter.

In court Friday, Daniel Tarlow, one of Degnan’s three lawyers, said they just received 26 discs of evidence from prosecutors. Both Bonilla and Degnan’s cases were continued until Feb. 11.

Both Bonilla and Degnan were charged in a broad-sweeping and intensive investigation that could take out top leadership in the immigrant city including Lantigua, top law enforcement officials confirmed.

In April 2011, Lantigua and members of his administration were identified as targets in the multi-jurisdictional investigation involving allegations of corruption, bid rigging, suspicious out-of-state travel, campaign finance violations as well as shipments of vehicles to the Dominican Republic.

Degnan resigned as Lantigua’s chief of staff in May 2011.

After Bonilla was indicted a few months ago, he was stripped of his gun, badge, unmarked cruiser and police ID and placed on administrative leave.

Earning $140,000 annually, Bonilla remains on the city payroll despite requests from police Chief John Romero, city councilors and other officials to stop his pay while the criminal case is pending.

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