LAWRENCE — Mayor Michael Sullivan, who has defended Wilfredo Laboy through scrutiny and scandal, said he will vote tonight to suspend the school superintendent, pending the outcome of a police investigation that has involved four searches between Laboy's office and home.
Sullivan said he believes placing Laboy on administrative leave with pay is the best course of action for the city at this tense time.
"For the health of the public schools and for the health of Dr. Laboy and until the whole story unfolds," Sullivan said. "I think that's what the committee is feeling that it's probably better to place him on leave. That the least amount of exposure he has in the School Department is better and healthier for all parties involved."
"This is a decision that has to be made and for the good of all," the mayor said.
Authorities have said the investigation is focused on financial improprieties, but have offered no further details. Local and state police investigators raided School Department offices at 255 and 237 Essex St. Friday, Monday and again Tuesday night while a School Committee meeting was underway downstairs. Detectives then went to Laboy's Howe Street home in Methuen, seizing files, computer equipment and a small, black trunk.
Laboy could not be reached for comment and did not return messages left on his BlackBerry.
But Haverhill attorney Scott Gleason said in an interview last night that he was confident that the superintendent would be exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing.
"I have come to know Dr. Laboy to be a man of great integrity and honor. And I expect at the end of the day, nothing will change in that regard," Gleason said.
"No charges have been made so far, and the doctor is cooperating with the officials in whatever capacity he possibly can. We have every expectation if any accusations are made that he will fair out in a completely innocent manner," Gleason said.
Gleason would not comment on what materials were taken by state and Lawrence police who raided Laboy's home Tuesday night. "I'm in the evidence acquisition business and not the evidence dispersal business," he said.
The attorney said he and Laboy, at this point, don't know the extent of the evidence investigators have gathered or the focus of their investigation.
"I'm sure they're looking for information which would be consistent with whatever tale they're being told, but we're certainly not aware of whatever tales are being told right now. We don't get into the guessing game. The facts will come together soon enough," Gleason said.
District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett's office did not reveal details yesterday about the probe. "We do not comment on pending investigations," said Steve O'Connell, spokesman for Blodgett's office.
Meanwhile, City Council President Patrick Blanchette has filed a complaint with school lawyers and the state Ethics Commission questioning whether Sullivan can vote on suspending Laboy. His complaint states Sullivan is part of a family business which represented Laboy and his son in a Sal's Pizza venture in Methuen, posing a potential conflict of interest. (See related story.)
Four votes — a simple majority — are needed from the seven-member committee to place Laboy on paid administrative leave. The mayor has said previously that it would take five votes — two-thirds of the committee. In clarifying the situation yesterday, he noted five votes would be needed to fire the superintendent.
Committee members Samuel Reyes, James Vittorioso, Martina Cruz and Gregory Morris have previously said Laboy should be suspended. Members Peter Larocque and Priscilla Baez, the sister of Laboy's former special assistant, Mark Rivera, have not said how they'll vote. The meeting will be behind closed doors at 6 p.m., at the School Department offices.
Rivera resigned amid an investigation this spring into improper background checks with School Department software. Through his attorney, Rivera offered to provide police information in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Police, at that time, declined his offer.
A spokesman for the state's Department of Education said that office is in "close contact" with Mary Lou Bergeron, who in Laboy's absence was named acting superintendent. Laboy has been on stress-related leave since May 14, and had hoped to return to work part time this week.
In May, a planned state review of the Lawrence public schools was conducted and "we are now analyzing that data," said J.C. Considine, a representative for the Department of Education.
Considine said the state has no current plans to take over the school district, as requested earlier this week by Frank McLaughlin, president of the 900 member Lawrence Teachers' Union.
There was little discussion about Laboy during Tuesday night's School Committee meeting. No vote was taken on a proposed suspension then because under state law, committee members must give Laboy and his attorney 48 hours notice of any meeting where they will discuss him and possible disciplinary action.
Sullivan said the School Committee will not reconvene after tonight's closed-door session, but he will meet with reporters after the meeting to report the outcome.
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.