By Jill Harmacinski
---- — SALEM, Mass. — Three months after his arrest, Justo Garcia, a city parking garage worker and campaign photographer for Mayor William Lantigua, was indicted by an Essex County Grand Jury for allegedly stealing from the city and doing campaign work on city time.
Lantigua himself was called to testify before the grand jury that indicted Garcia.
Garcia, 60, was indicted on larceny and related charges for allegedly stealing an unspecified amount of money from the city-owned Museum Square parking garage where he worked, and submitting fraudulent receipts for money he allegedly accepted for monthly parking passes. Garcia is additionally charged with faking his timecard to say he was working when he was actually campaigning for Lantigua.
He was initially arraigned in Lawrence District Court on June 6. Now, due to the indictments, Garcia faces arraignment in Salem Superior Court. The penalties he faces at the Superior Court level if convicted are more severe. It was unclear yesterday when Garcia will be arraigned in Superior Court.
Garcia is no longer working in the parking garages but remains on the city payroll as a public works employee, said Sal Tabit, his defense attorney.
Tabit said in the wake of the indictments, Garcia “maintains and is adamant that he never stole money from the city of Lawrence or the parking garages.”
Garcia was arrested after a local, state and FBI investigation that involved undercover agents, marked bills, a hidden camera in the parking garage office, around-the-clock surveillance and even a GPS installation.
However, Tabit said he has not seen “any of the evidence outlined in the initial complaint given to the court,” including video taken during the investigation. “It’s hard for me to comment until we begin the discovery process,” Tabit said yesterday.
In addition to Lantigua, city Finance Director Mark Iannello testified before the grand jury investigating Garcia and the parking lot theft.
On Jan. 11, 2013, Ianello, city attorney Charles Boddy and John Isensee, the city’s public works director, met with FBI agents to discuss a rapid drop in parking lot revenues. Five months later, after the investigation involving surveillance and undercover agents buying parking passes, Garcia was arrested and charged.
On May 29, Lantigua was called to testify before the grand jury. However, flanked by Boston defense attorney Jeffrey Denner, Lantigua was in the courthouse briefly. When he emerged to a throng of waiting media, his only comment was, “I love you all.”
For more than two years, Lantigua and his administration have been the target of a state and federal investigation involving allegations of bid rigging, illegal car swaps, campaign finance violations, suspicious out-of-country travel and more.
City mayor since January 2010, Lantigua has not been charged and has repeatedly said he has not committed any crimes. In a primary for re-election Tuesday, Lantigua earned 48 percent of the vote. His challenger, Dan Rivera, earned 23 percent. Lantigua and Rivera face off in general election on Nov. 5.
Rivera, reached for comment yesterday, said Garcia, along with two indicted police officers, should be removed from the city payroll while his criminal case is pending. Despite requests, Lantigua continues to allow the officers and Garcia to be paid.
“This is why we need a change of leadership in this community,” Rivera said. “When people get involved with this mayor, even if they are good, decent people, they end up doing things that are illegal on his behalf and they get into trouble,” he added.
Lantigua did not return a message seeking comment for this story.
Garcia has been free on personal recognizance since his district court arraignment. He was also ordered to turn over his passport.
Following Garcia’s arrest, Robert Nunes, the city’s state appointed financial overseer, issued a report indicating the city’s parking garage system lacked necessary oversight. Cash only collections were not verified and the garages are secured by obsolete cameras installed decades ago, according to his report.
Nunes wrote the system is “riddled with fiscal and operational vulnerabilities” and asked for 14 reforms.
Garcia is the fourth Lantigua supporter to face criminal charges since he took office.
In September 2012, Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, was indicted by an Essex County Grand Jury for allegedly swapping city owned cars.
Lantigua’s former Chief of Staff Lenny Degnan was indicted at the same time for allegedly pressuring a city waste hauler to donate a trash truck to the Dominican Republic, Lantigua’s native country.
Police officer P.J. Lopez was indicted by a federal grand jury for lying to a federal agent and taking kickbacks from a local towing company. His trial is expected to start late this month.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.