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Commonwealth v. Degnan

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Essex

March 30, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
LEONARD DEGNAN.

          Heard: December 1, 2016

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on September 11, 2012.

         The cases were tried before Douglas H. Wilkins, J.

          David A.F. Lewis for the defendant. Philip A. Mallard, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Cypher, Maldonado, & Blake, JJ.

          BLAKE, J.

         Following the election of William Lantigua as mayor of Lawrence (city) in 2009, the defendant, Leonard Degnan, served as his chief of staff. During the defendant's tenure in that position, he secured the donation of a trash truck from the city's waste services provider to a city in the Dominican Republic. The donation request took place during a meeting in which the defendant told the provider that the mayor's office "had the ability to rip up" the provider's contract with the city. Following the donation, the city took no action to void or modify the contract.

         In 2012, a grand jury returned several indictments charging the defendant with bribery and other crimes related to the trash truck donation. A 2014 jury trial resulted in convictions of soliciting a bribe, soliciting a gratuity, conspiracy to solicit a bribe, and unlawful use of an official position with fraudulent intent.[1] On appeal, the defendant claims that the Commonwealth presented insufficient evidence to support the convictions, and that errors in the prosecutor's closing argument created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. With the exception of the conviction of soliciting a gratuity under G. L. c. 268A, § 3(b), which we vacate as duplicative of the bribery conviction, we affirm the defendant's convictions.

         Background.

         In the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 676-677 (1979), the jury could have found the following facts.

         1. City's waste removal contract.

         Allied Waste (Allied) is a waste hauling company that holds multiple municipal contracts, private contracts, and commercial accounts. In 2009, Stanley Walczak was a general manager at Allied responsible for the negotiation of municipal contracts with the city, among other duties. In September, 2009, prior to Lantigua's election, Walczak and the city renegotiated a new $6.4 million, three-year contract to commence on October 1, 2009, with two additional option years. The new contract was significantly different from the prior, as it converted the city to an automated collection system with limited barrels per household. To fulfil the contract, Allied was required to purchase new barrels and new side-loading trucks at a cost of $2 million to $3 million. Despite the significant financial investment required, the parties expected that the reduced manpower needed, as well as the limited trash collection per household, would result in savings over the long term.[2] As an additional cost-saving measure, the new contract also eliminated bulk item pickup. During the early implementation of the new contract, some of the city's residents protested the reduced services.

         2. Connection to the Dominican Republic.

         In November, 2009, the city's voters elected Lantigua, who was the first mayor originally from the Dominican Republic. More than one- third of the city's eligible voters are from the Dominican Republic, with a significant number of those from the Dominican city of Tenares. Shortly after the election, Lantigua and the defendant met with the mayor of Tenares while they were vacationing in the Dominican Republic.

         3. Solicitation of the donation.

         After his return from the Dominican Republic, the defendant commenced work in the new administration. He directed the everyday operations of the city, acted as its "finance director, " and oversaw the city's contracts, including its contract with Allied, all in close connection with the mayor. Vendors, including Walczak, knew that the "mayor's office ha[d] a lot of clout" and "a lot of say" in the renewal and awarding of contracts and, for that reason, they knew that it was in their interest to be responsive to the mayor's office.

         In December, 2009, Frank McCann, the head of the city's department of public works, telephoned Walczak to set up a meeting with Walczak and the defendant. At that point, Walczak had known McCann for about eleven years and had worked with him as the city's contact person on its trash contracts. During the call, McCann informed Walczak that, at the meeting, the defendant was going to ask that Allied donate one or two trash trucks.

         The meeting took place later that month at the defendant's insurance office.[3] According to Walczak, it proceeded as follows. From behind his desk, with McCann and Walczak seated in front of him, the defendant immediately launched into a hostile attack about the new trash contract. He stated that both he and the mayor were not happy with the contract, and that he "could not believe" that the previous administration had signed such a "way overpriced" contract. Continuing in a confrontational tone, the defendant emphasized that the cost of the contract had been significantly increased from the previous one, but provided fewer services, and that he "didn't believe it would work in the city of Lawrence." The defendant told Walczak that "he was the right hand of the mayor" and "could find a lot of other companies to come in to do it a lot cheaper." Finally, the defendant said that he and the mayor "had the ability to rip up the contract, not honor it."

         About fifteen minutes into the meeting, while Walczak was attempting to explain how the contract had come into existence, the defendant cut him off and told him that the defendant and the mayor were "going to give [Allied] a chance . . . even though [the city] could terminate the contract, they were going to give [Allied] the opportunity to work with [them]." The tenor of the meeting then immediately changed. The defendant told Walczak that "[he] and the mayor would be very happy" and "it would go a long way if ...


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