EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 24, 2013

Lantigua's disclosures raise questions

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — The two years of financial disclosure forms that Mayor William Lantigua’s campaign committee filed this week settled old questions but raised new ones and may have done little to help Lantigua avoid a showdown with Attorney General Martha Coakley over his fundraising and spending.

Coakley already is investigating Lantigua’s alleged failure to report expenses for as many as 15 campaign events in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and the financial disclosure forms for 2012 that Lantigua filed Tuesday may cause her to widen her investigation.

Lantigua’s 2012 form reports no expenses for the first major event of his re-election campaign, a rally at a downtown nightclub that drew 100 people on Dec. 28, when he announced his re-election. Lantigua reported spending just $1,755 last year, for postage, a printer toner cartridge and what appears to be a charitable donation.

Lantigua did not return a phone call seeking to learn why the expense for the campaign event at Rio’s Bar and Grill on Appleton Street was not reported. Club owner Angel Villalona could not be reached to learn if he hosted the event for Lantigua without charging him, which would violate a campaign finance law barring corporations from making cash or in-kind contributions.

Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Coakley, would not comment on the missing campaign event, except to say that his office “will work with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to ensure the filings meet all legal requirements.”

Lantigua is due to respond Jan. 30 to a suit Coakley filed earlier this month in Suffolk Superior Court seeking to force him to file the 2011 campaign disclosure form, which was more than a year late when Lantigua filed it Wednesday along with the 2012 disclosure form. The 2012 form was filed a few hours before the midnight deadline.

Coakley’s suit also seeks an order directing Lantigua to pay the $5,000 fine that accumulated while the form was overdue. The fine still has not been paid, OCPF spokesman Jason Tait said yesterday.

Puffer said Coakley will not withdraw her suit, noting that even if the 2011 report is deemed compliant, Lantigua still has not paid the fine for filing it a year late and still has not filed two financial disclosure forms due for his first campaign for mayor in 2009, which are now more than three years overdue.

“Our suit requires Mayor Lantigua to file his finance report and pay his fine,” Puffer said. “Until we can confirm that both of those have been fully met, our lawsuit will remain ongoing.”

Also ongoing is a bill in the state House of Representatives that would block municipal candidates with outstanding campaign violations or fines from appearing on a ballot, a standard that now applies only to county and state candidates.

Rep. Diana DiZoglio, the Methuen Democrat sponsoring the bill, said yesterday she is pushing “to get this bill to the floor as soon as possible,” although it is uncertain whether its provisions could be enforced by the upcoming elections if the bill passes in this session.

The forms Lantigua filed yesterday indicate he has corrected at least a few other alleged irregularities Coakley is investigating, including his failure to report expenses for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 campaign events.

The 2011 form shows that on June 9 of that year Lantigua made two payments totaling $5,737 to the owners of Chester’s, an Island Street event space, for campaign events that occurred up to two years earlier, on July 27, 2009, and on May 3, 2010. Lantigua made the payments 11 days after The Boston Globe alleged that Lantigua never reported the expenses for the 15 campaign events, in a news story that prompted Coakley’s investigation.

Lantigua’s 2011 financial disclosure form also shows that on Aug. 10 of that year, he made another $542 payment to Chester’s for an event that occurred 16 months earlier, on April 28, 2010, drawing 50 people and raising $13,250.

State campaign finance laws require candidates to report events during the reporting period in which they occur, which is always in the same year.

The 2011 and 2012 financial forms Lantigua filed Tuesday show his fund-raising dropped significantly from one year to the next, as did the number of donors. Lantigua raised $17,140 from 49 contributors in 2011, when he defeated two efforts to recall him and campaigned across the city for a favored slate of City Council and School Committee candidates. In 2012, as he headed into this year’s mayoral election, Lantigua raised just $4,100 from 11 donors, half of them city employees and contractors.

Eight months before what is likely to be a September primary, Lantigua has $15,683 in the bank, not including whatever he may have raised at the rally at Rio’s in December.

Lantigua’s 2012 financial filings show Ana Soto, his sister, remains his campaign treasurer. Along with Lantigua, she is a defendant in the suit Coakley filed in Suffolk Superior Court. Lantigua named Soto treasurer two years ago, after the state forced his previous treasurer, Lorenza Ortega, from the post because she is a city employee.

Lantigua and Ortega recently married.