LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua has fired two city workers as a state investigation into contract fraud at City Hall unfolds, bringing to five the number who have lost their jobs or consulting contracts with the city since the probe began in January.

A sixth remains on unpaid leave.

Lantigua fired information systems director Robert Maldonado and assistant purchasing agent Rita Brousseau either yesterday or earlier this week, Leonard Degnan, the mayor's chief of staff, said yesterday.

Maldonado, a city employee since February 1994, earned $66,542 annually. Brousseau earned $52,939 and had been with the city since November 1985.

The two had been on unpaid leave since January after the Lantigua administration found suspected over-billings and other irregularities in city contracts that might have cost the city $9 million.

Within weeks of Lantigua's inauguration on Jan. 4, Bryan Cahoon resigned a $165,000-a-year consulting job with the city. Cahoon had earned $81,900 as director of information services for the city before resigning and returning as a consultant, a move that allowed him to more than double his compensation.

Two other consultants — Tim Guyer, who earned $195,000, and Keith Clark, who earned $75,400 — also gave up their city contracts as the alleged billing scam was uncovered.

Timothy Belcher, a sixth information technology employee, has been on unpaid leave since January. His salary was not available yesterday.

A grand jury empaneled by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett is reviewing evidence in the case, including the contents of several city computers state police seized in February.

No criminal charges have been filed.

Stephen O'Connell, a spokesman for Blodgett, would not comment on the investigation yesterday.

Degnan said Lantigua fired Brousseau and Maldonado because of their connection to the alleged contract schemes, but would not elaborate or explain what prompted the mayor to fire the two now, nine months after putting them on leave.

"The decision was made to terminate," Degnan said, but said Lantigua had directed him not to answer further questions because the investigation continues.

The string of firings and resignations, along with a round of budget cuts, have stripped the IT department of resources, leaving the city to rely heavily on the School Department's IT employees for computer help.

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