Racism and Targeting in Lawrence – Commissioner Roger Twomey Answers Allegations

“I believe that the only way Willie Lantigua can get political power is to control people who truly don’t know what is going on. He constantly stirs the pot of hate for his own political maneuvering. He doesn’t really seem to care who he hurts in the process, either.” ~Lawrence Licensing Commissioner Roger Twomey.

By: Tom Duggan – June, 2005

Lantigua, Reyes at Adams Cyber Cafe, Illegally Drinking Outdoors“Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan recently fired Lawrence Licensing Commissioner Roger Twomey after he conducted an inspection of Adam Cyber Café, a campaign contributor of State Representative Willie Lantigua.”

In order for him to be legally fired, however, the city council had to approve it. The council held two heated and contentious hearings, finally voting five to three not to fire Twomey.”

“Representative Lantigua took to the radio airwaves calling Twomey a racist and claimed that he and his contributors were being targeted because of their race.” 

 “The Boston press, the Eagle-Tribune and several local radio stations all approached Commissioner Twomey for an interview. Twomey, however chose to give The Valley Patriot an exclusive.”

 State Representative Willie Lantigua says you have it out for him. Is that true?

“I do not hold any animosity towards Willie Lantigua at all. I’ll tell you why. Going back to 2003, I had requested that Willie go before the legislature to see what he could do about changing some sections of Mass. General Law (Section 140), specifically dealing with food, common victualers and used cars to see if he could increase the fees…and he did. The other legislators went along and they got it passed. So it’s not that I have anything at all against Willie Lantigua.”

 So why was (is) he out to get you?

This all goes back to the inspection of Cyber Café in July of 2004.”

“They were telling people it was OK to drink outside and the license doesn’t allow it. Lantigua was having an event with Israel Reyes at the time and they got caught breaking the law.”

(see pictures above)

“They were saying, ”it’s OK to drink outside.” So you had a State Representative and a City Councilor who took an oath to uphold the law and here they were breaking it. I think he was just embarrassed that he got caught.”

“After that he applied for a one-day permit at Adam Cyber Café. They wanted to have drinking outside the club after being caught the first time. The owners of Cyber Café had not yet come before the commission for the July infraction. And the law says you cannot have two liquor licenses in one spot.”

So we gave them the option to have the one-day license separate from where the Cyber Café is located. We were only asking that they move it down Common Street a little to be in compliance with the law. But they didn’t want to do that. They wanted it right in front of Cyber Café and that’s against the law. So we denied the application.”

 Tell me how this most recent incident at Adam Cyber Café happened.

Well, we got the anonymous tip weeks before we did the inspection. The person who called said that there was a “Primo’s Liquor” delivery truck outside Adam Cyber Café. Now, under state law you can only purchase alcohol from a state-licensed distributor. You can’t just go to the package store and stock up your club. So, I called Gene (Lawrence Police officer Gene Hatem) and said I wanted to go investigate.”

But Gene was very busy investigating the shooting over at Jubilee. I called him again on the week of the 24th and he said he would call me back the following week and he did. That next Wednesday he said he was available the next night. I agreed, after having to rearrange my schedule, and I met Gene downtown the night we did the inspection.”

 So what happened when you got there? Lantigua says you embarrassed him during a fundraiser.

When we got there, there were two people behind the bar and two others whom I assumed were patrons. That was it. There was no function going on when we did the inspection. We were there no more than fifteen minutes. In fact, people who arrived during the inspection didn’t even know what was going on.”

“When we left, there were about eight people present and there was still no function going on, though it looked like they were setting up for something. If Willie Lantigua hadn’t gone to the media to spin his story, there would have been no embarrassment because nobody would have known why we were there or that we were even there at all. He let that cat out of the bag. I wasn’t calling the radio and issuing statements; that was Mr. Lantigua.”

Willie was just taking advantage of the situation because he wants to get rid of me over what happened last July when they were allowing people to drink outside in violation of their liquor license.”

 (Editor’s note: Lantigua vowed back in July of 2004 to “get Roger Twomey” in front of a Valley Patriot reporter.)

 How many previous violations has Cyber Café had before this last incident?

“They’ve had a few. I would have to check the files to get you an exact number. Some of them had to do with serving alcohol to minors. They were involved in a sting operation with the Lawrence Police. I really had nothing to do with it.”

You say you got a tip from a source who wished to remain anonymous. Why wouldn’t you give up the name of who told you that Adam Cyber Café was illegally buying alcohol from Primo’s Liquors? Especially when City Attorney Charles Boddy said you were required to do so.

“That’s just not true. What Attorney Boddy was talking about at the hearing was: if the informant was working as an agent of the licensing board or the police, then they have to be named. But if they are not, they don’t have to be exposed and I will not divulge the source because I gave my word that I wouldn’t. I am going to keep my word.”

How many times has Willie Lantigua injected himself into local licensing issues and attended the appeals hearings of liquor establishments?

“Well, he came down to speak in favor of Punto Finale at the ABCC level. There were two incidences at Punto Finale, right outside the club. One on a Friday night, the other on a Saturday night. There were shootings, there were knives, there was a huge riot outside. This was in 2004.”

“As a matter of fact, the man who owns the funeral home next door still has bullet holes in his house showing where his daughter almost got shot because of what was going on outside Punto Finale. And because this went on two nights in a row, we felt it was a safety issue. So, we gave them a thirty-day suspension.”

“They appealed it before the ABCC and Willie Lantigua spoke in favor of Punto Finale. He gave some phony story about some clubs nearby, saying these incidents happened because of the other clubs, which is a bunch of baloney. The ABCC overturned our suspension basically because it didn’t take place inside the club’s licensed premises. Well, I still disagree with that. We sometimes consider the licensed premises the sidewalk outside the club. Willie Lantigua went against the city and advocated for the club. It was a very serious public safety concern.”

 Do you think Willie Lantigua was targeting you because you were white?

“The only reason Willie was targeting me was because of the incident at Cyber Café in 2004. I think he was embarrassed. Willie, as everyone knows, doesn’t like to be embarrassed.”

 What do you think about Willie Lantigua’s comments on the radio, that you are a racist and you were doing this for racially motivated reasons?

“I believe that the only way Willie Lantigua can get political power is to control people who truly don’t know what is going on. He constantly stirs the pot of hate for his own political maneuvering. He doesn’t really seem to care who he hurts in the process, either.”

“You know, it was very difficult for me to hear people who don’t even know me saying that I hate anyone. I have always dealt with people fairly no matter their ethnicity. I think it’s important for people to understand that 99 percent of the people I deal with every day in this job are Latino. They are wonderful people. I have a great working relationship with almost all of them. They are so nice and I have never had to deal with this kind of personal attack on my character before. It was really disheartening.”

 So you have never had any problems with anyone who is Latino?

“The only ones that have ever complained are the ones who think they can break the law and get away with it. But they are few and far between. I will say this about Willie Lantigua as far as his interference on this goes; the best thing that Willie Lantigua can do for his constituents is to tell them to comply with the law, rather than telling them to break the law and appeal it later. He took an oath of office and that kind of behavior is just unacceptable. I wouldn’t give special favors to my friends or my family and I certainly am not going to bend the rules for Willie Lantigua. It has nothing to do with race; it has to do with me doing my job and doing it fairly.”

 Tell me about this meeting that you had in the mayor’s office, where you supposedly refused to be in the same room with Willie Lantigua.

“Well, that’s another thing that has been distorted. I had to close the La Tambora Restaurant for health reasons and they didn’t have a license. The owner was told in 2004 to fix a problem by inspectional services. He ignored that request and was operating illegally because he could not renew his license for the year 2005.”

“After the first of the year, I have a list of businesses that have not renewed their licenses and it’s my job to visit those establishments. Willie Lantigua somehow got involved and I got a call from the mayor’s office. I was asked to explain why this happened. So we had a meeting with Commissioner Ganley (from inspectional services). Myles Burke and Tom Schiavone were also there. Mr. Nunez from La Tambora was present along with Mr. Lantigua.”

“I told Representative Lantigua that there was really no need for him to be there. I was polite. This was not to be insulting or anything like that.”

“I knew that the building inspector and I had done everything legal and there was nothing at all Mr. Lantigua could do except to advise his friend Mr. Nunez to bring his establishment into compliance with the law. Nobody at that meeting spoke in favor of Willie Lantigua staying for the meeting. If the mayor’s aide Myles Burke had requested that he stay, I wouldn’t have denied his request. I just didn’t see any need for a State Representative with no official authority in the matter to be in on the discussion.”

“Willie stood up at the beginning of the meeting and said, ‘for the record, Mr. Twomey has asked me not to be present here,’ and he left. That was it. Now he is saying that I objected to being in the same room with him, which is utter nonsense. As it happened, the La Tambora issue was settled, the building inspector went out the very next day and the restaurant had everything it needed in place. When the owner came in that day, we renewed his license.”

With all this going on with Cyber Café, La Tambora, the meeting in the mayor’s office, etc., did it seem like Willie was trying to interfere?

I don’t know if he was trying to interfere with the La Tambora incident. There was really nothing that he could do. I’m not even sure why he was there. This was between the city and the business owner. As for Cyber Café, I think he overstepped his bounds by making comments to the owners that it is perfectly OK to go ahead and break the law, and ‘we’ll settle it later when we go before the licensing commission.’ That’s what doesn’t make sense to me. The same thing with Israel Reyes.”

Did Mike Sullivan ever call you into his office to tell you he was firing you? Did he ever speak to you face-to-face and ask you your side of the story?

No. He never did. Not only did he not show up that night of the hearing, he didn’t have the courtesy to speak to me personally about it beforehand.

What happens now, if you get a call tomorrow that Adam Cyber Café or any of Willie’s other campaign contributors are doing something illegal? Do you feel gun-shy about going back there to do an inspection? I imagine that would be pretty hard after all this.

No. Not at all. Not even a little. I have a job to do and I am going to do it. I can’t control what anyone else does. Now I will tell you we have still not resolved the issue at Adam Cyber Café. We took an inventory of their liquor and if they cannot come in to the board with receipts proving they purchased their liquor from a licensed distributor with dates, etc., then the board will have to decide some kind of penalty. I can tell you that they are saying there is a new owner over there, and I’m not sure how that can be when the law clearly states that before a liquor license is sold, it has to be approved by the licensing board.

 You know, you can’t just go around selling a liquor license, buying liquor from unlicensed package stores and do whatever you want in this city. Liquor establishments have to follow the law like everyone else. When Adam’s comes before the board on this last incident I am going to question them about the new ownership issue. Before any transaction takes place on that license, it has to be approved and it hasn’t been.