Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eight Bell leaders arrested on charges of misappropriating $5.5 million

See all posts re City of Bell scandal.

Eight Bell leaders arrested on charges of misappropriating $5.5 million
By Jeff Gottlieb, Ruben Vives and Jack Leonard
Los Angeles Times
September 22, 2010

Eight current and former Bell city leaders were arrested Tuesday on charges of misappropriating more than $5.5 million from the small, working-class community as prosecutors accused them of treating the city's coffers as their personal piggy bank.

The charges follow months of nationwide outrage and renewed debate over public employee compensation since The Times reported in July that the city's leaders were among the nation's highest paid municipal officials.

Among those charged was former City Manager Robert Rizzo, who led the way with an annual salary and benefits package of more than $1.5 million. Prosecutors accused him of illegally writing his own employment contracts and steering nearly $1.9 million in unauthorized city loans to himself and others.He was booked into Los Angeles County jail and was being held on $3.2-million bail.

"This, needless to say, is corruption on steroids," said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley in announcing the charges.

Cooley described Rizzo as the "unelected and unaccountable czar" of Bell, accusing him of going to elaborate lengths to keep his salary secret. Prosecutors alleged that Rizzo gave himself huge pay raises without the City Council's approval.

"This was calculated greed and theft accomplished by deceit and secrecy," Cooley said...

At a news conference, Cooley accused City Council members of failing to oversee Rizzo's actions saying that they instead had collected more than $1.2 million in total pay since 2006 for presiding over city agency meetings that never occurred or lasted just a few minutes...

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