Educator Says Mayor has Conflicts of Interest, Lack of Leadership
By: Tom Duggan, April, 2010
According to Essex County District Attorney Jon Blodgett’s indictment of Lawrence School Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy, Mayor Willie Lantigua’s State Rep. campaign received materials printed at the Lawrence Public Schools in 2007.
Now Lantigua will preside over hearings to fire the superintendent for allegations (among other things) that Laboy was involved in the print shop scandal.
Superintendent Laboy was indicted last month along with former mayoral candidate Israel Reyes, former Special Assistant to the Superintendent, Mark Rivera and Laboy’s son, William. The indictments stem from a series of complaints filed by Lawrence School Committeeman Sammy Reyes.
Reyes turned over documents and other evidence of criminal activity to law enforcement last spring. Evidence he said shows proof that the half million dollar printing press at the School Department’s central offices was used to produce campaign material for school committee members and other elected officials, as well as criminal activity he says has yet to come to light.
Wilfredo Laboy is currently suspended, pending termination by the school committee, a committee now headed by Mayor Lantigua who is the chairman. Lantigua resigned as a State Representative in February.
Prior to the school department scandal, Lantigua had a long standing relationship with Superintendent Laboy. While still a State Representative, Lantigua filed two bills to allow Wilfredo Laboy to transfer his retirement time from New York State to his retirement fund here in Massachusetts allowing Laboy to retire with thousands of dollars more in his paycheck and retire early.
Lantigua also steered millions of state tax dollars to the Lawrence Public Schools which was overseen by school committee members who benefited from campaign material printed at the Lawrence Public Schools.
According to the criminal charges, the school department printing machine and other equipment were used by either Laboy or his subordinates to design and produce campaign fliers for current school committee member Greg Morris, Mayor Lantigua, former committee members: Omayra Mejia, Peter Larocque, and Priscilla Baez, as well as state Representative Barry Finegold.
Former School Committee member Priscilla Baez was fined in February by the State Ethics Commission for voting on her brother, Mark Rivera’s job (and salary).
Laboy was initially put on leave with pay by the school committee last year, prior to Lantigua taking office as mayor. At the time, three committee members whose campaigns had received printed campaign material from the school department (Morris, Baez and Larocque) voted to put him on leave, then allowed him to use accrued sick and vacation time, allowing Laboy to continue collecting a paycheck of nearly $2,000 a week.
For the first two months of his administration Lantigua refused to fire or discipline Laboy. The school voted unanimously last month to suspend him pending termination based on ten charges that Laboy had abused his authority as superintendent of schools after Laboy was indicted.
But, questions have been raised about the inappropriate nature of Mayor Lantigua being involved in the process of terminating the superintendent given that Lantigua himself is accused of using campaign fliers produced with school department computers and equipment paid for with state tax money.
The Lawrence Public Schools receives 99% of its’ $140+ million school budget from state taxpayers.
Reyes expects more indictments coming
When Lawrence School Committeeman Sammy Reyes filed complaints against School Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy, he says he had no idea that his brother (and former city councilor) Israel Reyes would be caught up in the scandal and indicted.
Israel Reyes ran for mayor in 2009, and has been involved in dozens of political campaigns in the last ten years, including getting his wife Patricia elected to the school committee seat now being held by his brother Sammy. Israel Reyes has been indicted on two counts of larceny over $250 in connection with the school department printing scandal.
“I really didn’t know what my brother’s involvement was,” Sammy Reyes said. “Obviously I had heard a lot of rumors and stories that things were going on behind the scenes, but the one thing that really bothers me is that I went to the police department with evidence of wrong doing and none of the things I complained about are in the indictments release by the DA’s office.”
Reyes said that he was not going to reveal what the evidence he turned over or what kind of criminal actions were taking place in regard to the complaints he filed with the Lawrence police and the District Attorney’s office. But, he said he cannot understand why those criminal acts he uncovered in the Lawrence Public Schools have not yet been acted upon.
“You know, they are indicting my brother for two counts of larceny over $250 which is small stuff when you look at everything else that was going on,” the school committeeman said. “So I expect, or I should say I hope that more charges are coming and everything that went on comes out.”
Reyes also said that several others who were involved in criminal behavior in the Lawrence Public schools “are just hoping this all focuses on Superintendent Laboy and then it goes away fast. There’s a lot of people just waiting and hoping that this is going to be the end of it. But their day is coming, those other people are not going to be able to hide for very long. Everything is going to come out and everyone who did wrong will be held accountable.”
Sources in law enforcement and in the Lawrence School Department say that they expect at least another half dozen indictments and criminal charges by other state agencies in connection with corruption in the Lawrence Public Schools.
… No Leadership
Sammy Reyes is only one member of the seven member committee but he is the only one who has blown the whistle on alleged wrongdoing and criminal behavior within the Lawrence Public Schools. He is also the only member of the committee who has consistently “called out” school employees and sometimes breaks political protocol by criticizing his colleagues on the committee.
Reyes told the Valley Patriot that he was “frustrated” Mayor Willie Lantigua has shown a “lack of leadership” on the committee and says that the Lawrence Public Schools will have a very difficult time moving forward “without a chairman.”
Lantigua canceled a meeting last month because it was raining. “There really wasn’t any other reason to cancel that meeting and we have a lot of work to do to turn around this school system. We are failing these kids. More than half the freshman class at Lawrence High School are failing and we are canceling meetings because of rain,” he said.
“On top of that, the mayor canceled the next meeting and I had to chair a meeting with two agendas,” Reyes added. Reyes is the vice chairman of the committee and presides over meetings when Lantigua is absent.
Reyes says that Lantigua also didn’t bother to show up for state mandated leadership training that all elected officials must attend. “He doesn’t know how to run a meeting, there is no leadership coming from Mayor Lantigua when it comes to the Lawrence Public schools. I’m just saying it like it is. If people don’t like that so be it, but maybe if he showed up for the training session he would know what a school committee chairman is supposed to do. But he didn’t show up and he doesn’t know what to do.”
“Sometimes when politicians get elected they forget that they are for the people and they go out there and do their own thing and that’s a big problem that I have been having with our mayor right now who’s our chairman. This is not a body of one, it’s a body of seven. We need to communicate and we need to be doing what’s best, because we are serving the people and that’s what I am going to do, I am going to serve the people.
The nightclubbing mayor
Reyes says he is also miffed that the State Legislature and Governor Deval Patrick are allowing Lantigua to borrow up to $35 million to pay for the city’s operating expenses when Lantigua has proven he is incapable of managing anything. The Lawrence city budget is more than $280 million, with $240 million of that coming from state taxpayers. The city only contributes aprox. $40 million in local property tax revenue.
“Well, certainly I would have never approved the 35 million dollar loan,” Reyes added. “And I know that there are people in Lawrence that are going to get upset with me for saying that, but I think my reason and my only reason [for being against] approving the $35 million dollar loan is because of the individual that we have running our city right now.”
“And there is evidence as to why we shouldn’t give him the 35 million dollars. He didn’t show up to the hearing, Certainly he didn’t show up to our budget hearing on Thursday night and that’s why I called him out. So, my decision would have been stronger because of the individual. How can we give one person 35 million dollars.”
“What we’ve had, just in the last couple of weeks, we’ve had five organizational meetings, one school committee meeting, three workshops and a budget hearing. He has not shown up to any one of them. The first one he showed up 30-40 minutes late for our first budget workshop, and then the rest he’s missed. He has missed the last 5 organizational meetings, like I said, including workshops and that is disappointing to me.”
“One of those meetings, embarrassing as it is, we only had three members show up to our workshop. It’s mandatory for a school committee members to attend. So I need the community to know what is happening, because he [Lantigua]may be fooling the community, but he is certainly not fooling me.
“It even upset me more, because, yes, after the meeting was over I was told that the mayor was at Balli’s [a nightclub on Essex St] instead of being at our budget meeting. So, I drove there, got out of my car and I saw him there, myself. That irritated me more and really upset me. That he is an individual that we just gave 35 million dollars, as head of our city, and this is where he is? At Balli’s? What does that tell you? Does that tell you that his best interest is the school department? I don’t think so!”
“How can we trust what he is going to do with this money, without knowing what he plans on doing with it or how to spend it. He talks to us about [his] ‘mission’ and so forth, but we haven’t heard what his mission is. I don’t know if you have any idea what it is, but I certainly don’t.”
1. On June 19, 2009, Police officers executed a search warrant and found more than a dozen bottles containing alcoholic beverages, some of them opened in Dr. Laboy’s office, at the headquarters of the Lawrence Public Schools. Possession of alcohol on school premises violates general laws, Chapter 272, Section 40A and the committee’s written drug free work place policy. On or about September 29, 2000, Dr. Laboy signed a document acknowledging that he had received a copy of the policy and he understood it banned the possession of alcohol on the committee’s premises and that violation could lead to disciplinary action, including termination of employment.
2. He made inappropriate, personal use of personnel and other resources of the Lawrence Public Schools, specifically, he caused employees to perform such services as transporting his son during work hours between his home in Methuen and work.
3. He made inappropriate, personal use of personnel and other resources of the Lawrence Public Schools. He directed or authorized school department employees to meet with building contractors or potential building contractors at his residence during the work day.
4. He made inappropriate use of personnel and other school resources by directing or authorizing school department employees to provide technical support for his computers at his home during work hours.
5. He made inappropriate use of personnel and other resources by directing or authorizing school department employees to perform electrical work at his residence during work hours.
6. He made inappropriate use of personnel and other school resources by directing and authorizing school department employees during work hours to remove trash from his residence in Methuen and deposit it on Lawrence Public School’s property.
7. He made inappropriate use of personnel and other school resources by directing or authorizing school department employees to transport his grandchildren during the work day between school and their home in Methuen.
8. He entered into and maintained a business relationship with the vendor who enjoys a contract with the Lawrence Public Schools without disclosing to State Ethics or the School Department.
9. He caused employees who were compensated by Lawrence Public Schools to use a printing press owned by the Lawrence Public Schools to produce copies of menus and other material relating to Sal’s Pizza, which has set forth above in the previous charge, is a business which he or his son had a financial interest. This was done during school time with no compensation to the school system and it constitutes a misappropriation of school department materials and services for private gain.
10. He caused employees, who were compensated by the school department to use school resources to provide graphic design services brochures and other materials with the association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents.
The infractions listed above, I believe are very serious. In addition, the press coverage surrounding this misconduct has resulted in significant notoriety, reflecting poorly on the Lawrence Public Schools and the Lawrence Citizens. In my judgement, makes it impossible for him to function as a positive community leader. Finally, on March 10, 2010, he was indicted for embezzlement, fraud and possession of alcoholic beverage on school property. This indictment and his misconduct have created notoriety in the community and make it impossible for him to serve as superintendent of schools. On that basis, I am recommending that you vote for an intent to dismiss based upon the grounds that I have enumerated.