Diaspora

Bad blood, old friendships, political alliances run Everett, a Globe review shows – The Boston Globe

EVERETT — Three weeks before nearly 500 students from the Everett High School class of 2018 would toss their caps in the air at Veterans Memorial Stadium, contractors excavated the street behind the stadium and left crumbling asbestos pipes in an open dumpster about 50 yards from the field house entrance.
The violation was so egregious that one of the workers, a pipe layer named Brian Capwell, raised objections with his boss. The contract with the city required proper handling and disposal of asbestos, which is known to cause lung disease and cancer. The worksite was on a narrow street bordered by homes.
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But Gregory T. Antonelli ordered him to get the job done, Capwell told the Globe.
“He was like, ‘I don’t care. Just get the pipe in the ground,’” said Capwell, who said he reported the job to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Attorney General Maura Healey and the DEP are suing Antonelli in Suffolk Superior Court, alleging he and his company, GTA Co. Inc., risked the health and safety of residents, workers, and members of the public. He has denied the allegations in court and told the Globe he did not recall a worker raising objections.
Despite that ongoing legal imbroglio, GTA has flourished in Everett over the past four years, collecting nearly $8 million on city contracts for paving, landscaping, and more water main replacements.
Longtime residents say that’s just the way things work in Everett, where certain influential people and their families are viewed as untouchable. Just across the Mystic River from Boston, Everett has been transformed in recent years by a high-end casino and an influx of immigrants. But a Globe review found this diverse gateway city of 49,000 still runs on old friendships and bad blood, a thicket of political alliances controlled by a circle of white political leaders who owe their jobs, their contracts, or their allegiance to the mayor, Carlo DeMaria.
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In his tempestuous 15 years in office, the mayor, his opponents say, has consolidated power over every corner of the city, from the public schools to the town library, by installing loyalists in key positions and repeatedly persuading the City Council to amend the city charter to afford him greater influence.
Cowed allies across city government have helped him weather a series of controversies that might have spelled political doom in another community. DeMaria won reelection unopposed in 2017, three years after four women accused him of sexual harassment. He was reelected in November, eight weeks after the city clerk accused him of extorting $97,000 from him in a real estate deal. His unsuccessful challenger for mayor, former councilor Fred Capone, alleged DeMaria defrauded taxpayers of $180,000 by secretly collecting inflated “longevity bonuses” that made him the highest paid mayor in the state. The school superintendent accused DeMaria of race and gender discrimination. Both she and the city clerk have spoken with the FBI after finding surveillance cameras in their offices. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. It is not yet known when the cameras were installed and at whose request.
The allegations have outraged some Everett residents, who have used frequent public records requests and their familiarity with the city’s entrenched culture to further expose conflicts and demand accountability. Some are considering forming a political action committee to recall the mayor.
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DeMaria, 49, has denied all allegations and is suing the clerk and the Everett Leader Herald for defamation. He defends his $40,000-a-year bonuses — 16 times the rate Capone says was intended, on top of his base salary of $185,000 — noting that councilors approved the annual budgets that included them.
“I did not steal money from the city,” DeMaria said. “I was entitled to it.”
In a lengthy interview, he dismissed his critics as politically motivated, insisted he has the support of average residents, and pointed with pride to the dazzling changes he has presided over in Everett.
“This is my city,” he said. “In the words of David Ortiz, this is our [expletive] city.”
This is the place my parents came from Italy and settled,” he also said. “I could have left a long time ago. I got a sense of commitment to the place. I really do.”
And to those who protest that Everett is too much DeMaria’s — that he has seized undue control and he rules with an iron fist — he says that he installs the right people and works hard, that he is accessible to the voters in the grocery store or on the street.
“It’s not DeMariaVille,” he said. “It’s Everett.”
To understand how government works in Everett, it’s important to appreciate how common it is for city leaders’ lives and livelihoods to be intertwined in ways that are ripe for conflict.
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Many city officials are related. Anthony DiPierro, the city councilor who resigned last week after weeks of public criticism for the racist language he acknowledged using in private messages, is a son of the mayor’s cousin.
Others hold multiple roles in city affairs. Sergio Cornelio, the clerk, is also the city’s historian, public records access officer, and election committee chairman. He moonlights as a snowplow operator for Antonelli, whom he called one of his oldest friends in an interview with the Globe. The mayor explained his decision to embark on a private real estate deal with the city clerk this way: “We were very close. He was like a little brother to me for a long time.”
At times as they pursued their real estate deal, the mayor and clerk also engaged Antonelli, a top city developer who routinely seeks permits and development approvals from city employees and boards.
Their target was an unusual property for Everett — a 14,100-square-foot lot with a house built in 1822 and a red barn. Just steps from Everett Square, it’s nearly adjacent to a parking lot the city’s urban renewal plan pegged for redevelopment; only a concrete wall and a small city-owned lot separate the parcels.
Property records show that Cornelio bought the property alone for $900,000 in August 2019, and resold it for $1.3 million in 2021. The dispute centers on Cornelio’s grudging payment of $97,000 of the proceeds to DeMaria, who he asserts did nothing to earn the money.
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After Cornelio’s claims were reported in the local newspaper last fall, the mayor sued him for defamation and defended the payment as legitimately owed, saying the two men had always been partners in the deal. The mayor filed documents in Middlesex Superior Court showing that both he and Cornelio had signed a purchase offer and that DeMaria’s name had been struck from a purchase and sale agreement drafted in June 2019. An e-mail filed in court said the recommendation to drop his name came from the lender, who said it would be easier to finance the project with only one name on the contract.
Under the state’s conflict of interest law, DeMaria — who recently got his real estate license — can buy property in the city privately, so long as he doesn’t take official action on it in his capacity as mayor.
A legal opinion DeMaria sought in August 2020 encouraged him to publicly disclose his investment to prevent the perception of conflict of interest — and to avoid any involvement in the urban renewal plan.
To be transparent, DeMaria and his lawyer say, he filed a “Disclosure of Appearance of Conflict of Interest” in the city clerk’s office.
But that disclosure came in September 2020, after Cornelio had bought the property, filed a similar disclosure, and created an LLC alone. By that time, Antonelli had submitted plans to redevelop the historic property into a 50-unit apartment building, using the adjacent city-owned parcel for parking.
The apartment plan was withdrawn, however, and replaced with a more modest proposal to convert the two-family house into six units on the 14,100-square-foot lot. Then a curious thing happened: The square footage on the plans grew to 15,553, including almost the precise dimensions of the adjacent city-owned lot.
David O’Neil, the attorney who presented the plans to the Zoning Board of Appeals, said the city lot was not included in the calculation. He attributed the discrepancy to a more recent land survey.
“Sometimes in different projects, property lines are inaccurately identified, they get surveyed, they get corrected,” added Michael Sams, a lawyer for Antonelli.
Massachusetts’ conflict of interest law, designed to prevent self-dealing among public employees and their relatives, also bars city employees from being paid for two roles. But it allows for exceptions — for instance, permitting city workers to be designated “special municipal employees” so they can simultaneously serve as elected officials.
In Everett, where city officials often bounce back and forth between appointed panels and elected boards, those exceptions are becoming the norm. Last fall, two city employees got elected to the School Committee and designated special municipal employees. That has led skeptics to question the allegiances of a panel that is ostensibly independent of City Hall.
City Veterans Commissioner Jeanne Cristiano now chairs the School Committee. Michael Mangan, a legislative aide to the City Council, chairs the panel’s finance subcommittee. (A former city councilor, he was fined $8,000 for campaign finance violations when he ran for state representative in 2013.)
A third newly elected School Committee member is Michael McLaughlin, a former city councilor who works for Antonelli’s company, lives in one of the properties he developed, and tapped Antonelli as a treasurer for a past campaign.
In a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in January, Superintendent Priya Tahiliani claimed the mayor got himself and his allies elected to the School Committee to muster the votes to oust her because she is a woman of color.
Tahiliani, an Indian American, became the first person of color hired to lead the majority-minority Everett schools in March 2020. Her efforts to diversify the all-white school leadership team irked the mayor, who called her racist, and McLaughlin, who scrutinized her nonwhite hires, she alleged in her complaint.
The council also changed the city charter at the mayor’s request to make him a voting member of the School Committee in January 2021.
DeMaria declined to address Tahiliani’s complaint in detail. But he noted that he had sought a voting role on the School Committee long before she arrived.
McLaughlin rejected the assertion that he ran for School Committee to help DeMaria gain more control over the schools.
“Nobody controls what Mike McLaughlin does,” he said. “Nobody tells me what to do and how to do it. If I felt content enough, I could have stayed on City Council.
It was not the first time that DeMaria seized control of a city board.
In 2019, three years after appointing his wife and sister-in-law to the Library Board of Trustees, he also overhauled that panel, which had overseen the local libraries for 139 years. He made it clear he wanted control over staffing decisions, which were handled by a professional library director supervised by the volunteer board.
“I am not going to put a majority of women — who are all nice ladies and mothers and so forth, like my wife and my sister-in-law and others— they should not be handling HR issues,” DeMaria said at a public hearing.
The move drew opposition from residents, librarians, and even an “intellectual freedom and social responsibility committee” of the Massachusetts Library Association. But the council changed the administrative code to give the mayor control of the libraries. The dozen trustees he appoints are now paid stipends, for a total annual cost of $26,200.
The library director resigned in protest and was not replaced for over two and a half years. All that time, Matthew Lattanzi, the son of the mayor’s personal scheduler, filled in.
Matthew Lattanzi, 29, started working part time for the city not long after he passed the bar exam in 2018.
Today, he’s both the city’s planning and development director and assistant city solicitor, though the job descriptions called for five years of distinct professional experience in each of those fields. (The library position also called for five years’ experience and a master’s in library science, but he held it only on an interim basis.) His salary rose from under $70,000 in 2019 to over $90,000 last year.
Asked to explain his knack for landing city jobs, Lattanzi pointed to his eagerness to learn and his passion for planning and zoning.
“I worked in the city solicitor’s office as a high school, college kid,” he said. “I have a passion to learn things and I’m really not scared of trying a new challenge.”
But skeptics see favoritism at work. He’s the son of Dolores Lattanzi, the mayor’s personal scheduler, and Alfred Lattanzi, a city councilor who owns Everett Supply & True Value Hardware.
The last independently owned hardware store in Everett, the store was one of three vendors fingered in a 2007 audit commissioned by a previous mayor as inappropriately favored by the city. (Another was Antonelli’s GTA.) Everett’s procurement officer said the city had been doing “excessive and expensive” business with Everett Supply and the audit questioned the “soundness of the business practice” of relying on the local hardware store for supplies rather than seeking competitive bids.
Last year, the city spent $147,558 at Everett Supply, according to purchasing records obtained through public records requests. To deliver food to homebound seniors during the pandemic, the city began regularly renting vans from Everett Supply at day rates higher than Home Depot’s. Everett Supply also charged the city $595 for each massive truck rented to haul food from the Greater Boston Food Bank to local pantries, sometimes six at a time.
Everett Supply also received $6,589 of the city’s portion of federal CARES Act funding in May 2021. When asked to substantiate that payment, the city provided an Everett Supply invoice for 22 cases of nitrile gloves that was dated April 2020. The finance office blamed the mistake on a typo.
State law allows the city to tap Everett Supply as a qualified statewide vendor for most hardware supplies under $10,000 based on its commitment to provide certain products at a discount.
A city spokeswoman defended the spending saying that, since 2018, the city has spent more than twice as much at Home Depot.
Alfred Lattanzi did not respond to requests for comment. The disclosure he filed as a new city councilor noted his wife’s work for the mayor, as well as his submission of plans to redevelop his hardware store into a 16-unit apartment building.
The Antonelli family holds similar influence over a variety of departments in Everett, from licensing to elections. Greg Antonelli became a flashpoint of criticism after residents discovered he has continued to profit from city contracts and development while racking up unpaid tax and water bills worth nearly $180,000. (He has since paid the bills.)
The residents also suspected — and the Globe confirmed — that Antonelli and his brother both voted in Everett in November, although neither lives in the city. Greg Antonelli voted from the property that his sister, Lisa, owns alone, according to city elections records and property records. He and his wife, Caryn, a part-time Everett employee, live in Lynnfield, according to property records, campaign donations to DeMaria, and even the deposition he gave in DeMaria’s court case in March.
A voter can own multiple properties but have only one legal residence, based on where they spend most of their time and make their home, according to the state elections division.
The Lynnfield Town Clerk’s office confirmed that Antonelli is not registered to vote from the home where he is listed as a resident but that Caryn Antonelli is. “I don’t vote in Lynnfield,” Greg Antonelli told the Globe. “I don’t vote in two places.”
Greg Antonelli’s brother, Christopher, voted in Everett in November even though he told the Globe he has lived in Asia for 18 years.
“I pay taxes in the states. I have a US Social Security number. I think I have a certain level of entitlement to vote in a variety of elections,” Christopher Antonelli said by phone.
While it’s true that US citizens who live overseas can vote absentee, or via e-mail, in all local, state, and federal elections, the vote should be cast at the last address a person lived, according to a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office. Christopher Antonelli worked for Lehman Brothers in New York for about a decade after his upbringing in Everett and he still owns property in Hoboken, N.J., according to property records and media reports.
In addition, Everett election records show an absentee ballot requested in his name in October was signed under penalty of perjury with a signature that looks different than his other signatures on file.
Christopher Antonelli declined to address the circumstances of his vote.
“I confirmed that is my vote record, so you can imply what you would like from the signature,” he said by e-mail.
When asked about the Antonellis’ votes, DeMaria named someone he said voted for his opponent even though he’d moved out of Everett.
“I know that people have left the city, continue to vote in the city, stay on the voting rolls,” DeMaria said. “That’s not right. But I don’t get involved.”
After the Globe’s inquiry, Caryn Antonelli got a promotion: She’s now election coordinator and assistant registrar.
Another Antonelli sibling, licensing board member Philip Antonelli, works for GTA and was also involved in the unannounced asbestos job in 2018, according to a state inspector’s report. He declined to comment.
Both brothers refused to shut down the work after being confronted by the DEP, according to an inspector’s report.
“[Greg] Antonelli became belligerent,” the inspector wrote. “Several times he said ‘I’m not doing it that way.’ “
Asbestos was left exposed in the residential neighborhood for a week, the DEP alleges, with cleanup completed about seven days before graduation.
Contractors must follow strict procedures for removal of asbestos, which can break into microscopic fibers that remain suspended in the air and linger in the body for years.
Antonelli downplayed the risk in an interview.
“Did you think I was trying to crush up asbestos so that people would eat it and get sick?” Antonelli said. “Did you think I was trying to harm somebody? Imagine you’re talking about something that happened [four] years ago.”
Sams, the attorney for GTA, said the company has denied the asbestos allegations and has been otherwise successful. “GTA doesn’t have a blemish on their record either before or after,” he said.
DeMaria insisted that he keeps his distance from contracting decisions and that Antonelli and other friends are not favored.
“We do everything right in the city of Everett when it comes to contracts and bidding,” he said. “No one gets preferential treatment.”
But in text messages unearthed as evidence in the mayor’s defamation case, Antonelli suggests he has a direct pipeline to city officials on contracts. In one message, he complains that he is “doing parks and repaving roads for whatever price” the chief financial officer quotes him.
In an interview, Antonelli maintained that he doesn’t have a single friend in City Hall. But he acknowledged that grievances and allegiances are always shifting in Everett, a city he called “an entangled web.”
“You know the crazy thing about Everett? You fight with a person this month, next month you’re best friends with them,” Antonelli said. “It’s the craziest city around.”
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.
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