By: Tom Duggan
January 8, 2014
LAWRENCE – Just days after taking office as Lawrence’s new mayor, the Valley Patriot has learned that Mayor Dan Rivera has put Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla on unpaid suspension.
Bonilla is making $140,00 a year and was placed on paid leave by former mayor William Lantigua after he was indicted on corruption charges in connection with a deal to swap city owned cars that prosecutors say cost the city more than $36,000 and lead to conspiracy, and extortion.
During the mayoral campaign last year, Rivera repeatedly said on WCAP’s Paying Attention radio program (audio) and in other interviews that indicted police officers would be put on leave without pay as opposed to Lantigua who refused to take them off the city payroll.
Rivera also said before the election that his plan was to put the pay that indicted employees employees put on leave or suspension without pay would be put into an escrow like account account in the event an officer is found not guilty at trial and returns to work.
Bonilla was a Sergeant in the Lawrence Police Department during former mayor Lantigua’s 2009 mayoral campaign and coordinated fund raisers, sold tickets, coordinated campaign volunteers and has personal knowledge of Lantigua’s fund raising activity.
Within days of taking office as Mayor, Lantigua promoted Bonilla from Sergeant to Deputy Chief, skipping over lieutenants and captains while demoting Deputy Police Chief Mike Driscoll to make room for his friend and former campaign manager.
Immediately the police department was split in two as Lantigua has a long history of publicly accusing the Lawrence Police and Fire Department of being racist, lazy, corrupt and abusive.
Bonilla was in charge of all taxi cab licenses and enforcement of city safety codes for tax cab and livery vehicles when he was just a Sergeant. Oddly enough, the long tradition of taxicab inspections and safety enforcement was halted the minute Bonilla was made Deputy Chief.
Bonilla was seen on numerous occasions rallying taxi owners and drivers to appear at city council meetings to support Lantigua proposals and nominations to the planning board, licensing board and the firing of former Sullivan employees.
Bonilla was also in the news two years ago when his son was involved with an alleged armed robbery and used a gun confiscated by deputy Chief Bonilla in a criminal case. The younger Bonilla took the gun from the home of the Deputy Chief, even though it should have been locked in an evidence room at the police station.
Bonilla has had one on one contact with Lantigua and was the de-facto police chief, answering directly to Mayor Lantigua and circumventing the authority of then Police Chief John Romero.
Bonilla is only one member of the former Lantigua administration to be indicted. Lantigua’s former Chief of Staff Leonard “Lenny” Degnan was also indicted on corruption charges in connection with ambulances and a trash truck that were sent to Lantigua’s adopted hometown in the Dominican Republic.
Sources in City Hall and the Lawrence Police Department say that at least three police officers will be fired on Thursday. the Valley Patriot is withholding the names of those officers until confirmed by the mayor’s office.