Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Corrupt Lawrence Politician’s Bribery Conviction

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed three corruption convictions against former Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua’s chief of staff.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Degnan

Lantigua was elected mayor of Lawrence in 2009, and the defendant served as his chief of staff.  Before Lantigua took office, the prior administration had negotiated a three-year trash removal contract with a company named Allied Waste which obligated the company to spend considerable money to upgrade its equipment.  Once Lantigua began serving as mayor, the defendant participated in a meeting with Allied Waste’s general manager (a man named Stanley Walczak) and the head of the city’s department of public works.  At the meeting, the defendant berated Walczak about the terms of the contract between Allied Waste and the city.  The defendant claimed the contract was “way overpriced” and complained the trash services for the residents of Lawrence had been reduced.  The defendant asserted he was the “right hand” of the mayor and said he could find other companies that would provide trash service to Lawrence for less money.  Finally, the defendant said he and the mayor had the ability to rip up the contract and not honor its terms.  However, the defendant said he was willing to give Allied Waste an opportunity to work with the city and suggested the mayor would be happy if Allied Waste would donate a couple of trash trucks to the city of Tenares, located in the Dominican Republic.  Lantigua was born in the Dominican Republic and had ties to the city of Tenares.

Walczak left the meeting feeling as if he had been threatened by the defendant.  However, Walczak was worried the defendant would follow through and cancel Allied Waste’s contract if a truck was not donated.  Accordingly, Walczak found an old truck that was going to be auctioned by the company and arranged instead for the truck to be donated to the city of Tenares.  Before the truck’s transport, Allied Waste paid for a new paint job and new tires.  After the truck arrived in the Dominican Republic, the city did not cancel its contract with Allied Waste and Mayor Lantigua supported the company before the city council.  When investigators learned about the meeting, the defendant was indicted and eventually convicted of soliciting a bribe, conspiracy to solicit a bribe, and unlawful use of an official position with fraudulent intent.  He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The defendant argued, in part, that the evidence was insufficient to support a bribery conviction.  The Appeals Court disagreed.  In order to be convicted of bribery, the Commonwealth needed to have proven the defendant was a municipal employee who directly or indirectly corruptly solicited something of value for another person (or entity) in return for being influenced in his performance of any official act.  In this case, there is no dispute the defendant was a municipal employee at the time of the meeting with Allied Waste.  The evidence established he solicited a trash truck (a valuable item) for the city of Tenares (an entity).  The only question was whether the Commonwealth had proven the defendant’s corrupt intent.  The Supreme Judicial Court previously described bribery as an exchange involving a two-way nexus.  Application of that definition to this case demonstrates the defendant sought the truck in exchange for not canceling Allied Waste’s contract with the city.  The Appeals Court had no problem concluding the defendant’s conduct violated the Massachusetts corruption statutes.

Meanwhile, after four years as mayor of Lawrence, Lantigua lost his reelection bid in 2013 and moved back to the Dominican Republic.  He recently announced plans to return to Lawrence and run again for mayor.