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Opinion: Corruption at Lawrence, MA City Hall cheats underprivileged children

By Dalia Diaz

This is a different kind of corruption, but corruption nevertheless.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 97 tickets to see Disney on Ice on February 23 that were available through the Recreation Department at a cost of $20 each including transportation for that price. Since they had not been advertised anywhere, I checked on the city’s website only to find on January 26 that they were sold out.

The way it was brought to my attention was that Mayor William Lantigua had distributed them among his friends and relatives and I set out to unveil the truth.

I immediately placed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for a list of distribution of this year’s tickets along with the past three years to see if there were any similarities. Lo and behold, every year many of the same people get those tickets and the poor children of Lawrence never even hear about it.

About seventy percent of the tickets were sold to City Hall employees and most of them went to children of families who can afford the regular price and probably from surrounding cities and towns.

Take a look at these lists for the past three years. I have placed an E on the names I was able to recognize as city employees. The others without a last name could also be employed by the city. Please note the number of tickets that Maria Marcelo (City Clerk’s office) takes every year.

When asked about this, Nelson Ortiz of the Recreation Department told us and John Isensee, DPW Director, that he bought 105 tickets with money from a grant. Please notice that this year, only 94 tickets are accounted for, yet the message on the website on January 26th said that he had 97 tickets available but they were sold out. My math tells me that there should be 11 tickets left.

Another item that I don’t understand is if he received a grant, why sell them for $20 each? I thought that perhaps it was to rent a couple of buses but they have been given instructions to park their cars at the train station and the group will remain together.

Also this year, City Councilor Sandy Almonte had requested 10 for the group of teenagers that work in her district doing graffiti clean-ups but Mr. Ortiz told her that I was looking into it and he would not be able to sell them to her because I might object for her being a city councilor.

If that’s the case and Councilor Almonte doesn’t have them, then the true figure for unaccounted tickets is 21 from the 105 he ordered.

I am certain that no funder would donate money for City Hall employees to attend. If the grant request called for underprivileged children from Lawrence, there was a much better chance of having it approved.

At this point, we don’t know where the ticket holders live because he was careful to write first names only and I happen to know someone on this year’s list who bought 3 admissions and lives in Haverhill.

Once I check the conditions expressed on the grant proposal, I will insist that city employees should get a refund of their purchase and the rightful recipients get to enjoy the show.

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