Friday, September 24, 2010

Arrest of Bell, CA, Officials

So, what would you say to the arrest and prosecution of the Mayor and 80% of the City Council? Like the old joke, maybe -- a good start?

Well in the ongoing exposure of 'corruption on steriods' in the small, southern California town of Bell, that is exactly what has happened. The Mayor, Vice Mayor, City Manager, Assistant City Manager, and four of the five City Council members have been arrested and charged with the misappropriation of funds.

Thanks to an alert reader of this blog, for the tip.

You will recall, this past July (see "Bell City - Just the Apex of Business as Usual" and "Update on Bell") an LA Times investigation exposed the enormous salaries of the City managers and fake meetings held to amp up the part time salaries of the Council members, and how the Bell town folk erupted in anger at the news. Well justice has come a-knocking.

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting the following:

"This, needless to say, is corruption on steroids," [LA County] District Attorney Steve Cooley said at a news conference, standing next to a display of pictures of the suspects.

Rizzo, who was making nearly $800,000 a year, was booked on 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. He was expected to be arraigned Wednesday, with officials seeking bail of $3.2 million.

Others taken into custody were former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, Councilmen George Mirabal and Luis Artiga, and former Councilmen George Cole and Victor Bello.

The complaint said Rizzo made $4.3 million by paying himself through different employment contracts that were not approved by the City Council and that council members paid themselves a combined $1.25 million for what Cooley called "phantom meetings" of various city boards and agencies.

Rizzo also was accused of giving $1.9 million in loans to himself, Spaccia, Hernandez, Artiga and dozens of others, authorities said.

Cooley said his office had been investigating the officials since March - four months before the public learned they were paying themselves huge salaries to run the city of 40,000 people.
And the San Francisco Examiner reports on the investigation of how a poor town was able to sustain the high salaries nearly all of their officials got:

The Bell, California corruption probe continued with an audit revealing over $50 million in mismanaged city funds.

The audit, commissioned by State Controller John Chiang, examined over $65 million in city government spending.

The audit revealed financial improprieties including over $5.6 million in questionable licensing fees, an unnecessary $50 million bond, $10.4 million paid to contracting companies owned by Bell's director of planning services, a $4.8 million sweetheart land deal with a former mayor and nearly $6 million in compensation packages for the mayor and other top city officials. City Manager Robert Rizzo received a salary nearly twice that of President Barack Obama. Of the $50 million bond, over $23.5 sat in a noninterest bearing account for a Bell Sports Complex with no development plan.

Interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo, interim City Attorney Jamie Casso and Lorenzo Velez -- the lone member of the city council not under investigation -- continued meeting regularly to keep business going in Bell.

Here is the AP video report:

Meanwhile, former Bell Chief of Police is under investigation for possibly defrauding the California state pension system. The LA Times reports:
Los Angeles County prosecutors are investigating former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams for having himself declared disabled for the job the day he was hired, an arrangement that could pay him millions in tax-free pension money, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Thursday.

The Times reported Thursday that Adams struck a deal with former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo that guaranteed the incoming chief a disability retirement because of injuries he sustained years earlier. Under such a retirement, he would not have to pay taxes on half his pension income.

Adams' attorney, Mark Pachowicz, said his client had done nothing wrong and the pension agreement was merely an effort to avoid litigation with Bell if the city objected to a disability retirement sometime in the future."I don't think he should be under investigation," Pachowicz said.

Adams, 59, entered into the pact with Rizzo even though he had filed for a less lucrative non-disability retirement as he prepared to leave his job as Glendale police chief. That application was approved, but he rescinded it the same month his service officially ended in Glendale and he went to work for Bell in 2009, Glendale and state pension officials say.

Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird said that Adams, who worked in the city for six years, was not disabled and had never indicated to him that he should be entitled to a medical retirement.

Disability pensions are designed for employees who must give up a job because of a work-related injury, and the tax break is intended to compensate them for lost earnings, said representatives of the California Public Employees' Retirement System.

There is little corruption, and big corruption. Then there is gynormous corruption. For the easy and obvious conclusion to this blog entry, let me first apologize to John Donne, then quote him:
"Ask not for whom the Bell tolls, it tolls for thee."


Anonymous said...

When can those investigators come here?

Corrrupt-shun said...

Yes, why not "ring the bell" for representation over corruption, here in Indianapolis, here in Indiana?

Anonymous said...

"This, needless to say, is corruption on steroids," [LA County] District Attorney Steve Cooley said at a news conference, standing next to a display of pictures of the suspects."

I'll put money in the hat to get him a plane ticket to come scope out Diamond Don and his pals.(!)