The bill from isabel at least $250,000, plus rent merrimack valley bp gas station


LAWRENCE — The city has paid utility and maintenance bills totaling at least $250,000 over the last decade at a former school building where Isabel Melendez runs a range of social service programs — including voter registration — while actively campaigning for the succession of mayors who have been picking up the tabs, records show.

The checks the city has been writing to gas and electric companies, plumbers, carpenters, alarm contractors and HVAC technicians, along with the water and sewer bills the city has waived, come on top of another perquisite Melendez has been getting from the city over the last nine years: rent-free occupancy of the General Donovan School, which has 10 rooms and is now valued at $1.2 million.

Unlike the certified non-profit organizations that must provide a stack of tax forms and other documents before receiving aid from the city, Melendez’s programs are unaccounted for. She has never incorporated with the state as a charity or filed the federal Form 990 tax form required of all approved charities, where she would account for the cash and the donations of food, clothing, furniture and other items she collects and distributes to the poor and to families stricken by fires and other disasters. She has no board of directors to answer to.

At the same time, there have been no allegations of significant wrongdoing by the programs Melendez run. In earlier interviews, Melendez said she is not paid nor are any of the handful of people who assist her. She said she pays for many of the repairs to the building herself, including from her monthly Social Security check.

State Inspector General Glenn Cunha recently directed the city to provide him with an accounting of the bills it has paid at the school since then-Mayor Kevin Sullivan invited Melendez into the building in 2008 or 2009. The Eagle-Tribune filed a request under the state’s Public Records Law for copies of the documents, which the city provided last week. They total about 500 pages.

With the building privately occupied, the city appears to be doing no maintenance beyond the minimum required, the documents show. Four years ago, city Budget Director Mark Ianello reported that the building’s boilers, alarms and windows needed to be replaced at a cost of $73,000. None of the work has been done. Today, just one of the school’s three boilers works, Public Works Director Carlos Jaquez said.

The city first began a comprehensive tally of the bills it’s paid to keep the school open for Melendez in January 2014, three months after The Eagle-Tribune published a story about her arrangement with the city. The newspaper published the story after then-mayor William Lantigua named Melendez to manage his re-election campaign in 2013. She had few real responsibilities and was largely a figurehead in the campaign, but allowed Lantigua to tap into the good will she created with the free services she provided at the school, including classes in English and citizenship and voter registration.

Robert Nunes, who was then the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, responded to the news story by directing the city to require Melendez to sign a lease or move her out. The records also indicate that Nunes asked the city to provide him with copies of the bills it was paying on Melendez’s behalf.

Nothing more happened for the next four years, the records indicate. Melendez remained in the school and the city continued paying her bills. She endorsed Rivera for re-election last year – over Lantigua – and actively campaigned for him, speaking at his rallies, posting pictures of the two campaigning together on social media and wearing his oversized campaign stickers on her lapel.

o $15,883 for maintenance by private contractors, mostly plumbers and alarm companies, between Nov. 29, 2010, and Nov. 23, 2013. The city provided no tally of the bills for the years since then, but provided stacks of individual monthly bills and other documents for the period.

Among them, the records show the city paid Alarm Contracting Enterprises of Pelham, New Hampshire, a total of $3,200 to maintain and inspect the school’s fire and burglar alarms from 2014 through 2017. Falite Brothers of Wakefield, Massachusetts, billed at least $10,000 over the same period for boiler cleaning and repair.

There is no accounting in the stack of documents the city provided for trash removal, which in Lawrence is provided by private contractors paid for by the city; for plowing the parking lot behind the school; or for the value of any work city work crews may have provided at the building over the last decade.

In an earlier interview, Rivera said he continued the arrangement with Melendez that he inherited from former mayors Sullivan and Lantigua because of the value of the services she provides to the city’s immigrants and its poor and to families suffering through fires and other disasters. He declined to comment further for this story, citing the Inspector General’s ongoing investigation.

As a city councilor in 2012, Rivera spoke forcefully for a proposal to cut off city aid to local charities that can’t show that both the state attorney general and the secretary of state have certified them as charities and that have not filed their federal 990 tax forms.