Eight Bell city officials, including former City Manager Robert Rizzo, were arrested today as part of an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office into lofty salaries earned by administrators and elected leaders.
“This was calculated greed and theft,” District Attorney Steve Cooley said at a late-morning news conference.
Along with Rizzo, the officials arrested were former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and City Council members Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal. Also arrested were former council members George Cole and Victor Bello.
Cooley said Rizzo was charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest, saying he bilked the city out of about $4.3 million. Included in those charges is the allegation that he wrote his own employment contracts that were never approved by the City Council.
The current and former council members were charged with nearly two dozen counts of misappropriating about $1.2 million. Cooley said Bell City Council members were collecting salaries for meetings that never occurred.
Collectively, the defendants bilked the city’s taxpayers out of about $5.5 million, Cooley said.
The district attorney said the defendants used “tax dollars collected from the hard-working citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank,” which they raided at will.
For two months, the District Attorney’s Office and state and federal authorities have been investigating Bell, where high salaries earned by Rizzo and other top officials have sparked widespread outrage.
Last week, California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit against current and former Bell city leaders demanding that their pay contracts be nullified and that they pay back some of their salaries and pension benefits. Artiga was not one of those named in the lawsuit, and he said he was working with investigators.
Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down in July after the salary scandal broke. City Council members, who were earning almost $100,000 a year, significantly slashed their pay but have balked at calls for their resignations.
According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, Rizzo had been earning about $800,000 a year and was set to earn more than $1.5 million this year. He also gave loans to more than 50 city officials, including himself, totaling $1.6 million, The Times reported.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called on the state attorney general today to appoint a receiver to take over the day- to-day management of the city of Bell.
On a 4-0 vote, with Supervisory Mike Antonovich absent, the board approved a motion by Supervisor Gloria Molina calling on Attorney General Jerry Brown to “use every legal measure at his disposal … to immediately prevent any potential for continuing harm to the residents of Bell.”
The motion, which was written before today’s arrests of eight current and former Bell officials, calls on Brown to prohibit the Bell City Council from appropriating any funds or entering into an contracts on behalf of the city. It also calls for the appointment of an independent receiver to manage the city’s affairs and prepare an audit of all city contracts and funds.
Brown filed a lawsuit last week against current and former Bell city leaders demanding that their pay contracts be nullified and that they pay back some of their salaries and pension benefits.
Molina noted in her motion that despite Brown’s lawsuit and a variety of investigations into actions by the City Council and former City Manager Robert Rizzo, the council “continues to meet regularly — often in closed session.”
“They still exercise direct authority over the very city affairs they have shown themselves to be unable to govern ethically, fairly or competently, potentially further committing the city to future liability and other contractual obligations,” Molina wrote.