Bell Officials to Face Judge Wednesday

Former Bell, Calif. city manager Robert Rizzo appears in court at the Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles Sept. 22, 2010.
AP Photo
The mayor, the ex-city manager and six current and former officials of the blue-collar suburb of Bell, Calif. are expected to head from jail to court a day after residents of the modest city near Los Angeles celebrated their arrest.

The eight were scheduled to be arraigned in court Wednesday on charges of misappropriating more than $5.5 million in public funds.

Former City Manager Robert Rizzo, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and the others were rounded up during Tuesday morning raids on their homes. Residents across the city honked their car horns, burst into cheers and staged impromptu celebrations.

The officials were charged with dozens of counts of illegally paying themselves huge salaries in what Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley called a case of "corruption on steroids."

"They used the tax dollars collected from the hardworking citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they then looted at will," Cooley told a news conference as he stood next to photos of the eight suspects.

Others taken into custody were former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, council members George Mirabal and Luis Artiga and former council member Victor Bello.

Rizzo, who was making nearly $800,000 a year, was booked on 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. Messages left at his home and with his attorney were not returned. Rizzo also was accused of giving $1.9 million in loans to himself, Spaccia, Hernandez, Artiga and dozens of others.

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

Spaccia was making $376,288, and four of the five City Council members were paying themselves nearly $100,000 a year.

Cooley's prosecutors were seeking bail amounts ranging from $3.2 million for Rizzo to $130,000 for former Councilman George Cole. The amounts were based on how much authorities believe each person took.

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A week ago, California Attorney General's Jerry Brown sued eight former and current Bell officials, accusing them of fraud, conspiracy and wasting taxpayers' money by approving huge salary increases for themselves.

The suit demands city officials, including former Rizzo and three current council members, return hundreds of thousands of dollars from the bloated salaries.

Earlier this month Bell officials confirmed the city was also the target of a racial profiling investigation by the federal government for allegedly targeting young Hispanic drivers for traffic stops to raise revenue.