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Mayor William Lantigua called before grand jury

Lawrence mayor to testify on funds missing from garage run by ally

Mayor William Lantigua’s administration has been under investigation almost from the moment he was elected in 2009.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File

Mayor William Lantigua’s administration has been under investigation almost from the moment he was elected in 2009.

Mayor William Lantigua of ­Lawrence has been ordered to appear before a grand jury Wednesday to ­answer questions about tens of thousands of dollars alleged to be missing from a city-owned parking garage managed by one of his close political allies.

Lantigua’s administration has been under investigation almost from the moment he was elected in 2009, but this marks the first time Lantigua himself has been called to appear before a grand jury, where witnesses testify ­under oath in secret.

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A person briefed on the investigation said Lantigua received a subpoena Monday as he got off a plane at Logan Airport after returning from a two-week visit to his native Dominican ­Republic.

The person, who asked to remain nameless because the investigation is confidential, said the subpoena ­ordered Lantigua to appear before a state grand jury where he is expected to be questioned by Essex County prosecutors about the drop in parking revenues at the Museum Square Garage.

Lantigua’s lawyer said the mayor has nothing to hide.

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“Mayor Lantigua has answered and will answer every question put to him by investigators while he continues to conscientiously carry out his duties as mayor,” said Jeffrey Denner, a Boston defense lawyer.

The FBI began investigating earlier this year after officials noticed that revenues from monthly passes at the Museum Square garage were steadily dipping by thousands of dollars a month.

Investigators have ­zeroed in on Justo Garcia, the garage’s ­office manager, who is ­Lantigua’s campaign photographer and a former State House aide.

Garcia’s lawyer, Sal Tabit, said his client was stopped by police last week and shown what appeared to be a warrant to search him and his car. He then went voluntarily to the Lawrence police station, where he was questioned by the FBI and State Police, Tabit said.

Garcia “categorially denies any wrongdoing,” Tabit said, adding that Garcia was released after questioning and that no charges were brought.

Garcia also testified in September ­before a state grand jury investigating Lantigua’s administration.

Tabit said it was a “big leap” for anyone to conclude that the drop in revenue means money was stolen.

Garcia runs the monthly pass program at the garage and is responsible for the money, said a second person briefed on the investigation.

Using marked bills, the FBI found that cash paid for passes did not always end up in the city coffers, that person said.

Tabit said he did not know about any marked bills.

After the Globe reported on the investigation last week, two city councilors and the city’s fiscal overseers called for internal audits.

The overseer, Robert Nunes, launched an immediate review, which he said he will complete by July 1.

“The city cannot tolerate the loss of any potential revenue,” said Nunes, a deputy state revenue commissioner appointed in 2010 by the governor to help Lawrence solve its severe financial problems.

The investigation is the latest in a series of controversies that have plagued Lantigua since he was elected the state’s first Latino mayor in 2009.

Already, two of Lantigua’s closest allies are awaiting trial on public corruption charges. Former deputy police chief ­Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, and Leonard Degnan, his former chief of staff, were indicted in September on five counts includ­ing extortion and conspiracy.

Earlier this year, Lantigua paid $5,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Martha Coakley over failure to file a campaign finance report.

Despite the turmoil and two failed attempts by voters to ­recall him from office, Lantigua is campaigning for a second four-year term this November. Six candidates are looking to oust the mayor, who has raised little money.

Lantigua had only $15,683 in his campaign bank account at the end of 2012, the latest ­report available.

At the Museum Square ­Garage, an important revenue source in a city that needed a state bailout three years ago, Lantigua assigned Garcia to a $19-an-hour job, according to the second person briefed on the probe.

The number of employees at city garages and parking lots has more than doubled under Lantigua from 9 to 22, the person said.

Officials noticed the decline in revenues last year, the person said.

Monthly revenues at the garage, across the street from Lawrence District Court, had dipped from more than $31,000 to around $18,000 in some months, the person said.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. ­Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com.
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