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AG sues Lawrence mayor, seeks campaign report, fine

Attorney General Martha Coakley sued Lawrence Mayor William ­Lantigua Wednesday for failing to file a 2011 campaign finance report or pay daily fines imposed by the state Office of Campaign and Political ­Finance.

Lantigua, who has said he plans to run for reelection in 2013, filed no campaign reports at all in 2011, triggering a fine that has grown by $25 a day since the deadline on Jan. 20, 2012. He now owes $5,000, the maximum fine possible.

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The lawsuit asks a judge to order Lantigua to pay the fine personally, not out of campaign funds, and to file required reports “immediately.”

“Political candidates by law are ­required to accurately report campaign contributions and expenditures,” Coakley said.

“These disclosures ensure the ­integrity of the electoral system and help voters make informed decisions about who to support. Mayor Lantigua was ordered repeatedly to file these disclosures and pay the subsequent fine, yet has refused to do so. We are now seeking a court order compelling him to make these fundamental disclosures required of all political candidates.”

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Coakley’s lawsuit is the latest in a long string of controversies to beset Lantigua, who was elected the state’s first Latino mayor in 2009 with great fanfare. Lantigua is now under both state and federal investigation into alleged corruption.

Coakley said that if Lantigua ignores a court order to file campaign reports and pay his fine, he could be subject to more fines and even jail time. Under current law, she said, Lantigua cannot be removed from the ballot.

“We’re entering on another year, and Mayor Lantigua has indicated he intends to be a candidate in future years,” she said.

“It’s important to put him on notice and voters on notice that he has failed to comply with the law,” said Coakley, adding “there is no excuse” for Lantigua’s refusal to comply.

Lantigua did not return a call seeking comment.

Coakley’s office is still conducting a criminal investigation of Lantigua, whose campaign appeared to routinely ­violate campaign finance laws, a Globe review found. The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance asked the attorney general to investigate, concluding that the mayor and his aides have violated 11 different provisions of the campaign ­finance law since 2008.

State campaign finance officials also said that nine people and Lantigua’s committee broke the law, including Melix Bonilla, a Lawrence deputy ­police chief and Lantigua’s campaign manager, who is ­under indictment in Essex County on alleged corruption.

Campaign finance officials also asked Coakley to investigate Lorenza Ortega, the mayor’s girlfriend who worked for the City of Lawrence and was treasurer of Lantigua’s campaign in 2009. She signed a form falsely swearing she was not a public employee while she was campaign treasurer. Public employees are not permitted to serve as campaign treasurers.

In 2011, the Globe reported that even the limited campaign finance reports Lantigua did file were incomplete, leaving out numerous questionable ­donations from businesses.

For example, two local businessmen threw a lavish party for Lantigua in April 2010 at a restored mill. Lantigua reported taking in more than $13,000 from donors who paid up to $500 apiece to dine on paella. Lantigua reported no expenses for the food, drinks, or dining hall, costs that probably ran ­into thousands of dollars.

The fund-raiser, at Chester’s at Bell Tower Square, was one of at least 15 campaign events at restaurants or nightclubs for which Lantigua reported no ­expenses, the Globe reported in 2011.

Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com.
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