Pulitzer winner achieves the American dream

2011 Pulitzer winner Ruben Vivens (right).

LOS ANGELES - It was the biggest story of the year in Southern California. Officials in the working class suburb of Bell were paying themselves exorbitant salaries, in one case more than $1 million. And it was all uncovered by two Los Angeles Times journalists: a veteran reporter, Jeff Gottlieb, and Ruben Vives, who is just three years on the job.

A jubilant newsroom toasted the pair as they were announced as Pulitzer Prize winners for their work Monday, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.

"It took simple one-on-one reporting," Vives told CBS News.

"I think I'm probably a little bit more aggressive. Ruben is more laid back. Our strengths and weaknesses complemented each other," said Gottlieb.

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But there's a story behind this story. Vives, a native of Guatemala, came to the U.S. at age 7 to join his mother, a housekeeper in Los Angeles. He lived here many years in the shadows, without proper documentation -- an illegal status he knew nothing about until he was nearly 18.

"You know I was in high school," said Vives. "My mother told me my senior year of high school. At the time I didn't think about how serious the situation was."

His mother worked for two L.A. Times reporters, who, one month before Vives' 18th birthday, helped him get a green card -- and a job as a copy boy at the paper.

"If you give one person a voice, you never know what will come of it," said Shawn Hubler, Vives' mentor. "We helped Ruben, in a small way, find his voice."

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He worked his way up from the copy desk, to the Web, to full-fledged reporter.

"He has two traits, a willingness to tackle whatever we throw at him and a great attitude," said editor Russ Stanton.

Ask anyone around the L.A. Times office and they will tell you there are lessons in all this.

"It shows the importance of newspapers," said Gottlieb.

"This is what this country's about right?" remarked Vives. "Immigrants come here and make something of themselves."

Winning journalism's top prize at age 32.

"He just won a Pulitzer," said Gottlieb. "Can't do better than that."