A federal grand jury is investigating whether Mayor William Lantigua ordered Lawrence streets repaved to boost his reelection chances last fall, according to two city officials.
Lantigua heavily promoted the road project during his losing campaign, posing for photos and taking credit as each street was completed. Campaign ads showed the paving trucks as they rolled through the city.
City Engineer Andrew Wall said Friday that he had warned Lantigua that much of the work was ill-
advised: The weather was too cold, or there were no contracts in place to pay for the work.
But Wall said he testified before a grand jury in Boston Tuesday that Lantigua threatened to fire him when he advised against moving ahead.
“I’ll fire you and hire someone else who can do the job if you don’t perform to my expectations,” Wall quoted Lantigua as saying.
A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office refused to confirm or deny the existence of a grand jury investigation.
Wall, who answered questions at the Moakley Courthouse for 90 minutes, said he was not the only Lawrence city official allegedly threatened by Lantigua. He said that Lantigua allegedly threatened to fire the public works director, the city procurement officer, and the city attorney.
The public works director and the city procurement officer have been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, Wall said. Other city officials have also been subpoenaed, another city official said.
Wall said Lantigua wanted 41 streets paved last year, but Wall said he warned the mayor against resurfacing about a dozen of them because it was too late in the season and they could not be properly protected from the cold weather.
“He refused to listen to that,” Wall said. “The quantity of work he wanted — that made me think it was about the election.
“I’m the city engineer and I assess the roads and decide what to do,” said Wall. “I said, ‘Hold off on some of the paving’ but he would not accept my counsel. Was it politics? I can’t say, but that would seem to have been the reason.”
Wall said it will cost the city thousands of dollars to repair the damage to streets that should not have been repaved in the first place.
Lantigua lost narrowly to Councilor Daniel Rivera in the November final election. Lantigua could not be reached for comment Friday.
Attorney Jeffrey Denner who represents Lantigua, said, “Mr. Lantigua denies entirely any wrongdoing and to the extent this ever becomes a public accusation, we look forward to speedily resolving it.”
Rivera said Friday: “The mayor’s office has not been contacted, but if we are, we will cooperate. We think the investigation is appropriate.”
Lantigua has been dogged by controversy since he was elected the state’s first Latino mayor in 2009.
Two of his closest allies are scheduled to go to trial on corruption charges including former chief of staff Leonard Degnan, whose trial is scheduled to begin next week.
Last year, Lantigua was ordered to appear before an Essex County grand jury to answer questions about money alleged to have disappeared from a city-owned parking garage managed by a Lantigua ally, Justo Garcia, who was indicted on fraud and larceny charges last September.
Also last year, Lantigua paid $5,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Martha Coakley over his failure to file a campaign finance report.
Another Lawrence city official, who asked that his name not be used because of the confidentiality of the investigation, said Lantigua voided the city’s warranty on the paving work, absolving the contractor from responsibility for any defective work.
In addition, the official said, some of the work was done without a valid contract but with the understanding that once reelected, Lantigua would make sure the company — Highway Rehab. Corp. of Brewster, N.Y. — would be paid. Since Lantigua lost, the company has not been paid and is owed just under $300,000, the official said.