Lawrence mayor’s helping hand list draws criticism

By Andrea Estes and Scott Allen
Globe Staff / June 2, 2011

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Lawrence police say that Carmen Amada Beltre had the names, immigration papers, birth certificates, or other vital documents for 34 people when they pulled her over on Memorial Day for speeding and running a red light in an unregistered car without a driver’s license.

Beltre, who previously had been arrested on auto insurance fraud charges, had only one document in her own name: legal paperwork saying that she had been injured in an auto accident.

Beltre, 46, also had the name and cellphone number of someone she wanted to call for help: Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence.

“I’ve known Willy a long time,’’ she said, according to the police report. “He’s going to want to know what I was arrested for.’’

Carmen Beltre is the latest in a string of people who have turned to Lantigua when they got into trouble with the police, underscoring the profound tensions in this hardscrabble city between the mayor and his own police force.

Lantigua, who has overseen deep cuts in the police force since taking office last year, insists that he is only helping out constituents, but critics say that Lantigua should be judged by how often he comes to the aid of people who have allegedly broken the law.

Yesterday, Lantigua acknowledged he talked to Beltre after her arrest Monday afternoon, but said that she is “not a close personal friend’’ and that he told her he could do nothing for her.

In May 2010, Rafael DeLeon, who was convicted of selling cocaine in 2004 and now runs an auto body shop in Lawrence, immediately called Lantigua when police started towing cars parked illegally behind his lot. The mayor had the cars returned, said DeLeon, who considers Lantigua an old friend.

Lantigua also paid a $900 state fine for him when he got into trouble for not properly insuring his employees.

Bernardo Pena, a Lawrence car dealer and one of the sponsors of Lantigua’s birthday party in February, also threatened to call Lantigua when a traffic control officer started ticketing his illegally parked cars last December. Pena then shouted a profanity, according to the police report, and allegedly smashed his car into the officer’s cruiser.

When a police sergeant arrived to investigate, a woman who was with Pena ran toward the officer holding out a cellphone and saying she had the mayor on the line. Lantigua called Police Chief John Romero to find out what was going on, police said.

Lantigua has also written letters of reference for suspects in two serious crimes — one accused of a brutal Salisbury home invasion and another, arrested for breaking into his mother’s home and threatening her.

Lantigua said at the time that he did not know about the assault involving Marco Tejeda, the man charged in the home invasion, and said he thought he was writing a job reference.

“Without a doubt, I absolutely regret writing the letter,’’ he told the Globe. “I will be . . . a lot more careful in the future.’’

Yesterday, Lantigua said it was not his fault that people reach out to him when they have problems.

“Though [Beltre] used my name and called me, I don’t condone this and don’t encourage it in any way,’’ Lantigua said in an e-mail to the Globe.

“Many people have my phone number, as it’s very public and sometimes they feel they can call on me for assistance,’’ he said. “This is a police matter and needs to be handled through due process and the court system.’’

Police said they apprehended Beltre when she started speeding in a Toyota Avalon, drove through a red light, then stopped in a parking lot and tried to walk away.

According to the police report, Beltre said she had borrowed the unregistered car from a friend, “but could not recall the friend’s name.’’

On the front seat, they found a trove of documents such as tax returns, visa applications, claims for welfare, and copies of birth certificates belonging to 34 different people.

Beltre admitted that she should not have the documents, according to the police, but did not explain why she had them.

Beltre could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The motor vehicle charges against Beltre have already been dismissed, requiring her to pay court costs, but police say the investigation into the documents in her car is continuing.

DeLeon, owner of West Street Automotive, said he is a longtime friend of Lantigua. DeLeon’s conviction for selling $50 worth of cocaine to a police informant in Methuen, he said, is a thing of the past and has nothing to do with Lantigua.

He said Lantigua helped him to reopen his business after it was briefly shut down by the state Department of Industrial Accidents in 2008.

After investigators from the Industrial Accidents Department found that workers’ compensation insurance for his employees had lapsed, they closed his business and levied a fine of $100 a day.

Lantigua accompanied DeLeon to the state agency’s office and paid the $900 fine by personal check.

“He did me a favor,’’ said DeLeon, pointing out that he repaid Lantigua, who was a state representative at the time, the same day.

Lantigua said that he was only trying to prevent a local business from being temporarily closed. “I personally lent him $900 to assist him and get the business open,’’ he said. “I tried to do a good deed for a constituent, nothing more, nothing less.’’

Police say that DeLeon’s business has been a focus of their auto theft task force and that a red Nissan on DeLeon’s lot had a license plate that they traced to Angie Patrone, a Lawrence woman who was recently sent to prison for selling drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants and drug dealers.

DeLeon said he did not know Patrone and that the license plate was on a car brought to his shop by a customer.

Three months after the May 2010 altercation between DeLeon and the police, city budget cuts reduced the police force by nearly 40 officers, forcing Romero to disband the auto theft task force.

Andrea Estes can be reached at Scott Allen can be reached at