Calif. Files Lawsuit against Bell City Leaders

California Attorney General Jerry Brown announces lawsuits being filed against officials of the city of Bell, Calif., at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
AP Photo/Reed Saxon
The California attorney general's office sued eight former and current Bell city officials on Wednesday, accusing them of fraud, conspiracy and wasting taxpayers' money by approving huge salary increases for themselves.

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

The legal action also calls for a reduction of pension benefits for the officials.

Attorney General Jerry Brown said his investigators will look at other cities where the annual salaries of officials exceed $300,000 and will ask legislators to reform salary and pension practices.

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"I'm going to continue to do everything in my power to go after corrupt officials who, rather than doing the public's business, scheme behind closed doors to line their own pockets," said Brown, a candidate for governor.

Brown's office and the Los Angeles County district attorney opened investigations after learning Bell had some of the highest-paid officials in the nation, even though one in six city residents live in poverty.

Rizzo resigned after it was disclosed that he was being paid nearly $800,000 a year, plus lucrative benefits.

The blue-collar suburb of 40,000 people also faces a federal probe into whether it violated the civil rights of Hispanics by deliberately targeting their cars for towing to raise revenue.

Along with Rizzo, those named in the lawsuit filed Wednesday are former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia; ex-Police Chief Randy Adams; council members Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabel; and former council members Victor Bello and George Cole.

Phone messages left for Rizzo and council members were not immediately returned.

Rizzo's salary had been raised by the council 16 times since 1993, with an average increase of 14 percent a year, according to Brown. In 2005 alone, the council boosted his salary 47 percent.

Four City Council members were paid nearly $100,000 a year before they took a recent cut. Cities of similar size pay their council members about $5,000 a year.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Rizzo and the city tried to keep details about his salary secret. The newspaper cited records and interviews that show Rizzo began hiding information about his true pay in September 2008.