EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 30, 2012

Editorial: Who cares if Lawrence cops are paid to do nothing? Not Gov. Patrick

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It’s no secret that the property-poor city of Lawrence depends on the financial support of the rest of the state to survive.

Taxpayers who live elsewhere pay virtually all of its school budget and two-thirds of the rest.

Yet Mayor William Lantigua and a majority of the City Council are fine with spending other people’s money to pay three cops to stay at home and do nothing after they were criminally convicted or indicted.

And, hey, why not when the guy who is paid to keep tabs on your spending on behalf of the taxpayers says there’s nothing he can do about it?

Roll call, please:

Officer Daron Fraser, arrested in July 2010 and convicted in 2011 of domestic assault and battery. Not working but still drawing a check.

Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, indicted last month on charges of fraud and bribery in connection with a car-swapping deal with a Lantigua supporter. Not working but still drawing a check.

Patrolman P.J. Lopez, another friend of Lantigua, indicted last week on charges of taking a bribe and stonewalling federal investigators. Not working ... you know the rest .

Collectively, this trio makes about $270,000 a year -- $140,000 for Bonilla and $60,000-plus each for Fraser and Lopez.

Money for nothing — more than a quarter million dollars a year, plus accrued benefits, including sick and vacation time and accumulating pensions.

Police Chief John Romero has called on Lantigua to fire Fraser, who because of his conviction can no longer carry a gun and thus cannot function as a police officer.

Romero relieved Bonilla and Lopez of duty and asked the mayor to place them on unpaid leave, as state law allows when public employees are charged with crimes related to their jobs

Lantigua’s response was to name a supporter to hear the Fraser case. In a truly bizarre decision, the hearing officer said carrying a gun is not in the job description of a police officer so Fraser should be allowed back on the job. Fraser remains on paid leave while Lantigua considers his options.

Lantigua has yet to respond to the request to put Bonilla and Lopez on unpaid leave after their grand jury indictments.

That’s perhaps no surprise considering Lantigua is himself under scrutiny by multiple grand juries.

What’s truly surprising and appalling is that those who are supposed to be looking out for the public’s interest have been equally feckless.

We’re talking about you, Bob Nunes, the state-appointed fiscal overseer of Lawrence, and you, Deval Patrick, governor of the Commonwealth.

Nunes, in a Pontius Pilate-like response, said he doesn’t have any control over personnel decisions and washed his hands of the matter. How about speaking out about what’s right and wrong?

Patrick, in a Lantigua-like response, refused to say anything at all.

So did state Sen. Barry Finegold, who like other Lantigua enablers among our legislative delegation doesn’t have the guts to challenge the mayor on this issue.

Nor do the five weak-kneed city councilors who refused to sign on to a letter by Councilors Eileen Bernal, Roger Twomey, Mark Laplante and Daniel Rivera asking Nunes to stop payment to Fraser, Bonilla and Lopez.

The silence of Nunes, Patrick and the rest is golden -- for the three cops at least, who stand to make decent livings for years to come.

There’s a saying that what can’t go on forever, won’t.

Paying cops convicted of or charged with crimes to do nothing in a city beset with crime because they are pals of the mayor is one of those things.

It must end.