Eight official of scandal-hit small U.S. city of Bell arrested in probe

12:49, September 22, 2010      

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Former manager of small southern Californian city of Bell in the United States as well as seven others were arrested on Tuesday morning as the investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office into the exorbitant salaries earned by administrators and elected leaders deepens.

Robert Rizzo, formerly the city manager, and former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and City Council members Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were led away in handcuffs by law enforcement members in Bell and other cities. Former council members George Cole and Victor Bello were also taken into custody.

"This was calculated greed and theft accomplished by greed and secrecy," District Attorney Steve Cooley said at a late morning news conference.

Rizzo was charged with 53 felony counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest, saying he bilked the city out of about 4.3 million dollars. Included in those charges is the allegation that he wrote his own employment contracts that were never approved by the City Council.

Rizzo, who was the un-elected and unaccountable czar of the city, secretly set his own salary, Cooley said. "He misappropriated substantial pay and benefits, increasing each of them through a series of actions that no one approved of, and few if anyone knew about," he said.

The current and former council members were charged with nearly two dozen counts of misappropriating about 1.2 million U.S. dollars, Cooley said. They collected salaries for meetings that never occurred. The defendants bilked the city's taxpayers out of about 5.5 million dollars, Cooley said.

All eight defendants are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles.

The city of about 38,000 residents in suburban Los Angeles paid out nearly 95,000 dollars to repay personal loans former City Manager Robert Rizzo gave himself without the apparent knowledge of city council members.

Last week, California's Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against the Bell officials, accusing them of fraud, civil conspiracy and waste of public funds. The lawsuit calls for the recovery of unwarranted salaries amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars and the reduction of pension benefits for the officials.

California and federal authorities have also been investigating the scandal.

The Bell officials, whose salaries were the highest in the nation among public employees, deliberately "abused their public trust," Attorney General Jerry Brown said.

Bell City kicked off a national outcry when the Los Angeles Times reported last month that some top city officials were making exorbitant salaries. City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid an annual salary of 787,637; Police Chief Randy Adams, 457,000; and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, 376,000.

Additionally, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and three of the city's four council members -- Teresa Jacobo, Luis Artiga and George Mirabal -- were being paid 97,000 for their part-time jobs.

It's also been reported that the disgraced officials are eligible for huge pensions; some had taken out questionable loans from the city; residents' property tax rates were unlawfully high; and the city also overcharged them for sewer service.

Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia have since resigned. The mayor and council members agreed to reduce their salaries, but refused to heed their outraged constituents' calls to step down.

Source: Xinhua


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