EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 1, 2014

Editorial: Degnan in chains and Lawrence's missed opportunity

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Leonard Degnan sounded every bit the two-bit strong-arm man when he put the squeeze on an executive for Allied Waste not long after William Lantigua’s election as mayor of Lawrence in November 2009.

Stanley Walczak, general manager of the company, said he was summoned to a meeting that December at Degnan’s South Lawrence insurance office.

Degnan was Lantigua’s pick to become the mayor’s chief of staff and, as such, had influence. He also had a mission.

He made it clear at the meeting that Allied Waste had better play ball with the new administration or lose its three-year, $6.4 million trash-hauling contract.

Degnan was “hostile” and threatening, Walczak said. He said he could “rip up” the contract if he wanted to.

Nice little contract you got here. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.

Degnan said the mayor-elect was looking for donations from major contractors. What he wanted from Allied Waste was a couple of trash trucks for Lawrence’s sister city, Tenares in the Dominican Republic.

In the end, Walczak arranged the transfer of one old truck worth perhaps a few thousand dollars.

Seems a small price to pay for a $6.4 million contract.

Degnan could pay a much bigger price.

Yesterday, he was led scowling from Lawrence Superior Court in handcuffs and chains to a waiting Essex County Sheriff’s Department van after being convicted of his crimes.

The court is across the street from City Hall, where Degnan once held sway as interim mayor and chief of staff and where Lantigua ruled the city for four years.

Degnan spent last night behind bars and will spend the next two nights there as well as he awaits sentencing on Thursday.

After nine hours of deliberations that began Friday, a jury of six men and six women found Degnan guilty of bribery, conspiracy, knowing solicitation of a bribe and unlawful use of an official position. He was cleared of extortion.

The bribery charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000, though the actual penalty is likely to be a fraction of that.

Lantigua himself has not been charged with any crime, despite swirling investigations.

One other member of his inner circle, Melix Bonilla, the former deputy police chief, awaits trial on extortion and other charges — all over the swap of some city owned used cars for some other used cars owned by a Lantigua-connected car shop.

Used cars, used trucks. A few thousand dollars in a city worth millions.

This has been the tragedy of Lawrence. Fighting over scraps among the ruins as the city’s decline continued decade by decade.

William Lantigua was elected mayor on a wave of hope that things would be different under the first elected Latino mayor in Massachusetts.

Now we find out that some in the administration were planting the seeds of its destruction even before he took office.

Such an opportunity gone for the sake of a few dollars. Such a waste.