EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 8, 2013

Santiago has history of restraining orders

Former State Rep. accusedof hitting his former girlfriend

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE – Former State Rep. Jose Santiago has had three prior restraining orders filed against him by women since 2005, it was revealed during his arraignment yesterday for allegedly violating another restraining order filed by an ex-girlfriend.

Santiago, who has recently been reduced to working as a city DPW laborer, allegedly told the woman, “I’m well known .... No one is going to believe you” about being physically assaulted.

He is accused of hitting the woman with a closed fist and on another occasion throwing her against a wall.

Santiago, 53, allegedly told his ex-girlfriend, “If you are not going to be with me you are not going to be with anyone.”

Court documents filed in the case yesterday, reveal that Santiago had three other restraining orders against him in the past. Prosecutors sought $10,000 bail, but Lawrence District Court Judge Michael Brooks released him without bail on personal recognizance and ordered him to have no contact or any kind with the woman.

Santiago entered a plea of not guilty to the charge.

Santiago also has a restraining order against his ex-girlfriend, another detail that emerged during yesterday’s proceedings.

The ex-girlfriend was in court yesterday, but did not speak during the court proceeding or to the news media afterwards. Santiago’s brother and other relatives also declined comment.

Prior to his arrest early Saturday morning outside a Lawrence nightclub, Santiago was in the news for being hired by his former political foe, Mayor William Lantigua, for a $15-per-hour temporary DPW job. He was hired after Lantigua fired another worker, Tom Sapienza, for taking too much time off to care for his terminally ill wife.

Heather Sapienza, 40, died on Thursday after a 19-month bout with cancer.

Longtime friend and former co-worker Jackie Marmol described Santiago’s arrest as a personal matter. “I hope he can straighten this out,” she said.

She described Santiago as a hard worker. “The problem here is the mayor,” said Marmol, a 20-year resident of the city. “The focus point should be the mayor,” she added.

Santiago, of 391 Chestnut St., #130, spent the weekend in Middleton Jail. He is accused of coming in contact with the woman, outside a Lawrence club last week, prompting Lawrence police to issue a warrant for his arrest on Friday.

Judge Brooks warned Santiago to stay away from the woman, stressing not to contact her in any way, including by email or phone. If he violates those conditions, Brooks said Santiago would immediately be put in jail for 60 days.

Santiago was dressed in a black suit and purple dress shirt, the same outfit he was wearing when police arrested him at 12:20 a.m. outside a club at 98 Essex St. After the arraignment, the handcuffs and shackles Santiago wore to court were removed, freeing him to walk out of the courthouse on his own. He evaded a throng of media gathered at court for his arraignment.

Santiago was a state representative from 1999 to 2002, losing that seat to Lantigua, who then went on to being elected mayor in 2010. Santiago was also a Methuen police officer from 1983 to 1996. He was fired from the force when he refused to take a retraining course at his own expense. He is also a former Lawrence city councilor.

Michael Kostyla, Santiago’s defense attorney for yesterday’s hearing, said Santiago has strong ties to the community. Last week, when the alleged restraining order violation occurred, Santiago had an alibi. He was with his brother, Kostyla said.

Santiago does not qualify for a court appointed attorney. He must hire his own attorney to handle his defense. His next court appearance was scheduled for March 7.

When he was arrested, Santiago told police his driver’s license was suspended and he did not have a car. It’s unclear if a valid driver’s license is needed for a city laborer’s job.

Vowing to get his job back, Tom Sapienza retained legal services through Ellen Shimer-Brenes, a North Andover attorney. Her senior paralegal Taylor Dauksewicz attended yesterday’s arraignment. Outside the courtroom, she said Sapienza’s firing and Santiago’s hiring as a “temporary” employee follow a string of improper Lantigua employment practices.

He hires allies as “temporary workers” and then bypasses union and job posting rules and puts them on the payroll permanently, she said. This benefits Lantigua both “politically and personally,” she said.

She said her firm is drafting a race discrimination complaint on Tom Sapienza’s behalf to file with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against Lantigua and the city of Lawrence.

In addition to Sapienza’s firing and Santiago’s hiring, Lantigua is also being criticized for leaving two friends and political supporters on the city payroll after they were indicted on felony criminal charges and suspended from work.

Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s campaign manager, was indicted on Sept. 11 on five criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the illegal swap of 13 city vehicles. Bonilla, who earns $140,000 annually, is still being paid by the city although he hasn’t worked at the police department since the day he was indicted.

Officer PJ Lopez, who earns $62,000 annually, was indicted on federal charges on Sept. 26. He also remains on paid suspension after he was charged with making arrangements with a local tow company in exchange for a stream of benefits.

Police Chief John Romero has asked for both Bonilla and Lopez’s pay to be halted. Lantigua, the appointing authority, has refused to do so.

Lantigua and his administration remain the focus of an ongoing state and federal probe into bid rigging, suspicious out of country travel, illegal car swap and shipment of a trash truck, two ambulances and a school bus to the Dominican Republic.

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