By: Tom Duggan – November 12, 2012
Just days after taking office in 2010, Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, his Chief of Staff, Leonard “Lenny” Degnan of North Andover, and then DPW Director Frank Mcann of Haverhill, were involved in a transaction with Patriot Ambulance Company, a private contractor that provides ambulance services to The City of Lawrence.
That transaction, witnesses say, resulted in Patriot Ambulance owners donating two ambulances to Lantigua’s adopted home town of Tenares, (in the Dominican Republic), a transaction that has been the subject of investigation by state and federal authorities.
Since the transaction, Lenny Degnan has been indicted by the Essex County District Attorney’s Office and Frank Mcann has appeared before at least one federal grand jury in Boston.
Once Patriot Ambulance provided two ambulances as a “gift” to Lantigua’s hometown, a $15 million contract extension was awarded by Lantigua to Patriot Ambulance for services in the City of Lawrence.
Lantigua and members of his administration are currently under investigation by the FBI, the Essex County district attorney, the attorney general and several other law enforcement agencies, for bribery, extortion, conspiracy, abuse of power and corruption.
Among scores of other questionable actions by Lantigua and his administration are “donations” to the Town of Tenares, Dominican Republic, including two garbage trucks donated by Allied Waste in Chelmsford, which is contracted to collect the city’s trash.
Now, sources close to Mayor Lantigua and witnesses close to the corruption probes say that two ambulances were outfitted with firefighting equipment, medical supplies, defibrillators, hand wipes, rubber gloves and various other supplies – all gifted to Mayor Lantigua, to be sent to the Dominican Republic.
Documents Show Transfer
Records show that no vote of the city council was taken to donate the ambulances as required by law.
A source close to Lantigua’s office says that Mcann and Degnan were doing most of the “dirty work” but that Lantigua himself “facilitated the transfer.”
Sources say that Lantigua’s Chief of Staff, Lenny Degnan called Patriot Ambulance a few days after Lantigua took office and demanded an ambulance be sent to the Dominican, but then when Lantigua showed up on January 7, 2010 “it went from one ambulance to two ambulances.”
“Mayor Lantigua came in with Frank Mcann and some candidate for mayor in the D.R.. I can’t say it was a promise by Dave (Walton) or Moe (Patriot Ambulance owners) for an extension on the contract with the city, but I can tell you that the contract wasn’t even up for a year and a half, but by the time they handed the ambulances over to the city, Patriot’s contract with the city was renewed for three more years.”
Another Patriot employee told the Valley Patriot that the contract extension wasn’t directly tied to the ambulance “gift” but added, “That contract was renewed, not so much as a quid pro-quo for the donated ambulances, it was more because Willie kept saying he was worried about the state coming in and taking over the city. He said he wanted to make sure we were ‘taken care of’ if that happened before the contract expired,” he said. The Patriot employee repeatedly denied that there was ever a “deal.”
Ambulance companies are mandated to file transportation reports to the local fire department. Given that 2/3 the population of Lawrence is considered under the poverty limit we estimated the approximate value of Patriot’s contract as follows.
According to call and log sheets obtained by our Valley Patriot sources: In one quarter (three month period) Patriot Ambulance transports approximately 2,700 patients. With at least 75% of those calls being Medicare from poor patients (billed at approximately $495.00 per transport), those Medicare transports net approximately $1,002,375 in revenue per quarter-year.
With 25% of Patriot Ambulance transports paid by commercial insurance or private pay patients, billed at a minimum of $1,650 each, (resulting in $1,113,750 for the ambulance company). Given that these are quarterly payment, the Medicare plus private payments ad up to approximately $5,123,250 annual revenue from Lawrence 911 calls involving Patriot Ambulance. With Lantigua renewing the Patriot Ambulance contract for three years that yields more than $15 million in guaranteed revenue.
Sources close to Lantigua who are involved in the multiple criminal investigations, say that Chief of Staff Degnan “wasn’t asking, but demanding” that the ambulances be “donated” just a day or two after Lantigua took office. Our sources also say that it was Degnan who made it clear that the Patriot contract was set to expire before the end of Lantigua’s term and demanded the ambulances.
“Frank Mcann (DPW Director) called Patriot Ambulance and called, and called” a witness said.
“It was almost daily and sometimes more than once a day,” the source said, “ asking for the titles of the ambulances and asking what was taking so long for the transfers.”
Our source said that Patriot appeared to be having a hard time transferring the title and Mcann was getting pressure from Lantigua to “expedite” the ambulances to the Dominican.
“Finally on March 1, 2010 Mcann called and said he was coming down to get the titles himself.”
“The titles were then signed over to William Lantigua and Coady’s Towing picked them up for transport overseas,” according to a source close to the Lantigua administration.
In 2011, Patriot Ambulance owners Dave Walton and Maurice Ryan testified before both state and federal grand juries in the corruption probes connected to Lantigua and the two ambulances. Shortly thereafter, John Felci, Marketing Director for Patriot Ambulance also testified before both grand juries.
Felci was frequently seen at Lantigua fundraisers during the 2009 mayoral election and is listed as a contributor on Lantigua’s campaign finance reports. Reports are filed with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
The owners of Patriot Ambulance have been witnessed at Lantigua events, and at least one current employee of Patriot Ambulance has been convicted previously for conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud in connection with Quincy Hospital in 1984, where bribes had been accepted in connection with Bay State Ambulance.
The Valley Patriot is withholding that employee’s name until it is determined that he was involved in any wrongdoing connected with Patriot Ambulance.
The federal grand jury was temporarily suspended when the U.S. attorney’s office indicted Whitey Bulger and needed the staffing power to begin prosecuting that case.
No Comment and a Missing School Bus
“I really have no comment on any of that Tommy,” said John Felci, Marketing Director for Patriot Ambulance, in a phone interview prior to our publication.
“I’ve been told by the attorneys that because this is ongoing I can’t say anything. So, I value our friendship and you know I love your newspaper, but I am going to have to say “no comment” for now,” Felci said.
Valley Patriot sources also say that Lantigua Administration officials asked Patriot Ambulance to purchase a “short bus” and send it to the city for shipment to the Dominican Republic in addition to the two ambulances, which Patriot employees were willing to purchase for donation to the Dominican Republic.
When Lantigua’s candidate for mayor of Tenares lost the election in 2010, Mayor Lantigua suddenly informed Patriot that he didn’t want the bus anymore.
“So, he never took delivery of the bus and we don’t know what Patriot did with it,” stated a source involved with this transaction. The Valley Patriot found the bus earlier last month on property being used by Patriot Ambulance.
Two of our news spotters in the Marlboro area confirmed that the short bus was still on property located at 15 Sawin Road in Marlboro, on November 1, 2012, as we prepared for this story. But less than 24 hours after we asked John Felci of Patriot Ambulance about the bus (who again said “no comment”) one of our volunteer photographers went to the lot in Marlboro to get a photo for this story and found that the bus was no longer there.
Lantigua Era Indictments and Convictions
Former Lantigua Chief of Staff Lenny Degnan, who worked on Lantigua’s campaign and owns an insurance company in Lawrence, has already been indicted by Essex County District Attorney Jon Blodgett for fraud and corruption.
Degnan is officially charged with “solicitation of a bribe with corrupt intent, knowing solicitation of a bribe, unlawful use of an official position, conspiracy, extortion or attempted extortion.”
Degnan is also under investigation by the FBI, the U.S. attorney’s office and several other law enforcement agencies in connection with the Lantigua administration’s dealings with private contractors.
State Representative Jim Lyons, (R) Andover, has called the Lantigua administration a “criminal enterprise” and has been joined by scores of state and local officials calling for a full state takeover of the City of Lawrence.
Also indicted by the Essex County Grand Jury was Lantigua’s friend and former campaign manager, Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla for “trick, scheme or device to mislead in the procurement of supplies, fraudulent conversion of city property, unlawful use of official position, conspiracy, extortion or attempted extortion.”
Bonilla’s name did not come up during our investigation of the Patriot Ambulance transaction.
Bonilla was a sergeant on the Lawrence police department the day Lantigua was inaugurated in January of 2010, but was promoted over lieutenants and captains and made deputy chief within a few short weeks. The deputy chief at the time was Mike Driscoll. He was summarily demoted to captain by Lantigua to make room for his friend and campaign supporter.
Also indicted was a Lawrence police officer alleged to be involved in an illegal towing scam under Lantigua.
Former Lawrence City Councilor Israel Reyes, a supporter and political ally of Lantigua plead guilty shortly after Lantigua took office for his part in illegally printing campaign material for State Senator Barry Finegold with a Lawrence School Department printer.
The printing machine used, was paid for by state taxpayers with a grant that Lantigua voted for while he was in the legislature. Use of the state purchased printing press (for political campaigns) resulted in a short prison term for former Lawrence School Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy, (a Lantigua ally and supporter while he was a state representative) and John Laurenza, a school department employee.
Sources say that Lantigua’s transactions with private companies doing business with the city, voter fraud, extortion, and multiple other crimes are still being investigated on multiple levels.
November 3, 2009 State Representative William Lantigua elected mayor of Lawrence
December, 2009 Lantigua engages with Allied Waste, the company that does the city’s trash collection, to send two garbage trucks to the Dominican Republic.
January 4, 2010 Lawrence State Representative Willie Lantigua Inaugurated as Mayor of Lawrence.
January 7, 2010, Lantigua shows up at Patriot Ambulance on Blanchard Street in Lawrence to have two free ambulances sent to the Dominican Republic.
February 23, 2010, Titles for two ambulances transferred.
March 1, 2010 City worker picks up titles at Patriot Ambulance and has ambulances shipped to the Dominican.
March 1, 2010 Mayor Lantigua renews Patriot Ambulance’s $27 million plus contract for three years even though their contract is not up for renewal.
EDITORS NOTE: Why is Patriot Ambulance refusing to answer our questions about charitable donations to the poverty stricken country of the Dominican Republic? Are they attempting to cover up additional information or are they just afraid of losing this multi-million dollar ambulance contract from their friends in Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua’s Administration?
Lantigua, girlfriend in fuel aid inquiry (Globe May, 2011)
Subpoenas issued in Lantigua case – The Boston Globe (June, 2011)
Noose Tightens on Lantigua Admin (March 2012)
Lawrence mayor faces call to resign after indictments (Herald – Sept,. 2012)
Lenny Degnan, Aid to Lawrence mayor, and Deputy Police Chief are indicted (Globe, September 2012)