, Salem, MA

March 25, 2014

Ex-Lawrence mayor a focus in jury selection for Degnan corruption trial

Opening arguments today in former city hall aide's corruption trial

By Jill Harmacinski
Staff writer

---- — LAWRENCE — Leonard Degnan is the person on trial, but potential jurors in his corruption trial were asked yesterday what they’ve heard about his former boss, then-Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence.

“Mostly a general underlying theme of corruption,” answered one woman, when asked by Judge Douglas Wilkins what she’d read about Lantigua and possible “improprieties in his administration.”

“I would tend to think they are true,” the woman added, before she was excused from jury duty.

Another man actually said he knew Lantigua because his parents had worked with him years ago at a computer company.

“I want to know why (Lantigua) hasn’t been indicted or taken into custody yet,” said the man, prior to being excused from jury service yesterday.

A 14-person jury was selected yesterday in Degnan’s criminal corruption trial at Lawrence Superior Court. Opening statements are expected this morning.

Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, is charged with bribery, extortion and conspiracy. He’s accused of pressuring a city contractor, Allied Waste, to donate a garbage truck to the Dominican Republic, Lantigua’s native country.

The alleged offenses occurred between Dec. 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010, when Allied Waste held a $6.4 million contract with the city of Lawrence.

Owner of a local insurance company, Degnan worked as a Lantigua’s chief of staff from January 2010 to May 2011 when he abruptly resigned. Shortly after giving his notice, Degnan testified before a federal grand jury investigating Lantigua.

Lantigua, his girlfriend, a host of city officials, police officers and Stanley Walczak, then Allied Waste general manager, are named on the prosecution and defense witness lists. James Landy, a personal friend of Degnan’s and his previous defense attorney, was removed from the witness list yesterday at the request of defense attorney Ted Cranney.

Wilkins told prospective jurors that the case should be completed and ready for jury deliberations by Tuesday, April 1. Testimony in the case will go full days on some days and end at 1 p.m. on others, he said.

Jurors were asked about their knowledge of Lantigua and whether that would bias them against Degnan.

“Something about a scandal. That’s all I know,” said one man.

Jurors were also asked if their opinion in the case would be affected if Degnan did not testify. It’s unclear if Degnan plans to take the stand in his own defense.

One man, who did make it onto the jury, said he was part of a lengthy discussion concerning Lantigua when he was tailgating at a New England Patriots game. “All I heard there were some bad things about him,” the man said.

“Would you hold it against Mr. Degnan because he was chief of staff for Mayor Lantigua?” Wilkins asked.

“No,” the man immediately replied.

While some potential jurors knew of Lantigua, others said they knew nothing of him.

During his four years as Lawrence mayor, Lantigua and members of his administration were the focus of a multi-jurisdictional probe into allegations involving the trash truck, an illegal car swap, narcotics, bid rigging and suspicious out-of-country travel. To date, Lantigua has not faced criminal charges.

Evidence in the trial will include photographs and correspondence “concerning the donations of vehicles to the city of Lawrence to the Dominican Republic” from Allied Waste, Patriot Ambulance and North Reading Transportation. Numerous employees from Allied Waste, along with the ambulance and bus companies, were called to testify.