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Lawrence ex-school chief gets jail term

Laboy sentenced in corruption case

THE BOSTON GLOBE/FILE 2005

Wilfredo Laboy said he wanted to make amends.

SALEM - The former superintendent of the Lawrence public schools was sentenced Friday to 90 days in jail and a year of house arrest, ending a nearly three-year corruption case that threw the troubled district into turmoil and state receivership.

A day after being found guilty of five charges of embezzlement, Wilfredo Laboy was also ordered to perform 600 hours of community service and to pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the school system.

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Before he was sentenced, the longtime educator and ordained minister said he was sorry for what he had done.

“I want to publicly apologize,’’ Laboy said, calling the jury’s decision “just and fair.’’

“I made poor decisions, your honor, and I take full responsibility,’’ he said.

Laboy, 61, said he wanted to make amends for his actions and said he would never try to escape blame for his behavior.

After an eight-day trial, Laboy was convicted of repeatedly exploiting his position for personal gain, misappropriating print and copying services, and directing employees to run errands on his behalf.

“The defendant took from the Lawrence public school system to benefit himself; this was all about him,’’ Maureen Wilson Leal, assistant Essex district attorney, said in Salem Superior Court. “The defendant thought he was untouchable.’’

Leal said Laboy took public resources from schools that could not afford it, an abuse of power she denounced as “egregious misconduct.’’

Laboy had graphic designers at the school complete print jobs for the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and for his son’s pizza shop in Methuen, the jury found. He also directed school personnel to do personal errands for him using school vehicles on school time.

“These employees were at his disposal,’’ she said.

Laboy was suspended in 2009 amid an investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing in the School Department. Last year, state education officials placed the system in receivership, marking the first time the state has taken full control of a local school district.

Laboy was hired in 2000 to turn around the ailing system, but his tenure was often marked by controversy.

Prosecutors asked for two years in jail and 1,000 hours of community service. Laboy’s wife, daughter, and pastor asked the judge for leniency, describing Laboy as a “good man who loved people.’’

“It would be very difficult for us as a family,’’ said his wife, Margarita Laboy, her voice strained with emotion. “Please, your honor, have mercy.’’

Judge Richard Welch said Laboy “abused his position of trust,’’ calling his actions “plainly criminal conduct.’’

Jail time was appropriate and would serve as a deterrent for similar crimes, he said. “He knew it wasn’t right.’’

At the same time, Laboy had no criminal record and helped others throughout his life, Welch said. The judge recommended that Laboy be placed in minimum-security custody.

In a statement, District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said the public has a right to expect that public employees who manage public resources “will do so with integrity.

“In this case, Dr. Laboy used public resources for his own purposes and without regard for the difficult financial situation that the Lawrence public schools faced,’’ he said.

Scott Gleason, Laboy’s lawyer, asked the judge to consider what Laboy had already lost, saying the case and public outcry had taken a heavy toll on Laboy and his family. “His job, career, his retirement, it’s all gone,’’ Gleason said. The charges, he said, had caused the “complete destruction of a life.’’

He asked that Laboy be sentenced to house confinement.

As Laboy was led from the courtroom, he mouthed “love you’’ to his family, who blinked back tears as they watched him walk away.

Peter Schworm be reached at pschworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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