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David Padellaro

LAWRENCE — A former city police officer who won awards for heroism but was fired for misconduct nearly 14 years ago, was arrested yesterday and charged with three counts of larceny for allegedly trying to pass worthless checks.

David Padellaro, 48, now of Seabrook, N.H., was arrested on warrants following an investigation by Detective Paul MacMillan.

Western Oil of Lincoln, R.I., the company that says it received three bad checks totaling about $6,700 from Padellaro, would be at least the third contractor allegedly stiffed at the former Merrimac Paper mill since Padellero bought it for $1 two years ago in a deal city officials said was crafted to allow its former owner to dodge a $4 million bill for back property taxes. The city has condemned much of the dilapidated mill as a threat to public safety and ordered extensive demolition, but the work has been stalled by the site's complicated environmental issues and Padellaro's disputes with contractors.

On April 11, Jason Dellefemine, an account executive with Western Oil, told police the company was hired by Padellaro to pump oil from three tanks at the former mill on South Canal Street.

Dellefemine said the bad checks were drawn in Padellaro's name at Salem Cooperative Bank. Bank officials told Det. MacMillan the account had a zero balance on Jan. 17 and Jan. 19, and said they closed it when checks started bouncing.

The checks Padellaro wrote to Western Oil were for $3,478.26, $1,080, and $2,146.88, police said. Dellefemine told police Padellaro was also delinquent paying $1,937 for other services performed by the company.

Lawrence tax officials placed a lien on the mill property last year after former owner Stephen Stapinski sold it to Padellaro, allowing him to shed the outstanding tax bill. In July, the owner of a Walpole asbestos abatement company who quit the demolition job after Padellaro allegedly stopped paying him said he also was placing a lien on the property to collect on a $20,000 bill. Franklin Crane Contracting, a demolition contractor based in Hanson, also left the Merrimac Paper site last year, but a spokesman would not say why.

Shortly after acquiring the site, Padellaro erected a sign at the entrance with an painted image of a mill and wording suggesting the city would be a partner in a redevelopment. "Lawrence Proud, City of Lawrence and Mayor Lantigua," the sign reads in large, bright letters. A spokesman for Lantigua said the mayor did not authorize use of his name.

Padellaro was fired from the Police Department in 1998 following an investigation by lawyer Kenneth Homsey into allegations about his conduct.

One of those allegations was that Padellaro lied in a police report when he wrote that a gang member came out of a car wielding a sawed-off shotgun on Aug. 17, 1997, after Padellaro chased the car onto West Street.

That gang member was charged in state court while another man in the car with him who was the alleged leader of the Latin Gangsta Deciples was indicted in federal court on serious gun charges.

But state and federal prosecutors dropped the charges against the pair when they decided Padellaro had created a credibility issue by changing his statement on whether the man was holding the shotgun.

He was also found to have overbilled the department or engaged in double-dipping nine times in 1997.

In one case he put in for eight hours of court time when he was in court for just four hours, and also submitted slips to be paid for a work detail while he was getting paid to be in court or on regular patrol duty.

Known as a fearless officer always willing to race through a dark back yard after a criminal, he received a department commendation for helping catch a man charged with robbing the Shaws Supermarket in 1989, and was honored with three other officers for rescuing a 15-year-old girl from the Merrimack River in 1992.

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