Bell 8 Scandal: Facts
In a case the Los Angeles County District Attorney has called “corruption on steroids,” eight city officials from the small, working class city of Bell, California have been charged with using their positions to take more than $6.7 million dollars from Bell taxpayers.
Bell is one of the smallest, poorest cities in Los Angeles county, where one in six residents lives below the poverty line, and the per capita income is $24,800 per year. Enter Robert Rizzo and his band of scoundrels, who allegedly made all kinds of unauthorized changes to their employment contracts, giving themselves salaries higher than the President of the United States. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office is alleging conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and various counts of political malfeasance, including voter fraud, falsifying documents, and conflict of interest against Rizzo alone.
Word that the Bell city officials were using the city coffers and taxpayer dollars as their own personal piggy bank reached the public — and the police — in July 2010, following a Los Angeles Times exposé that Bell city leaders made among the highest salaries in the nation. The investigation took on statewide proportions, and even California’s governor Jerry Brown took notice. Rizzo’s salary was so high that if he became eligible for California’s Public Employee Retirement Program, he would have been California’s first “seven figure retiree,” according to the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.
Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, were accused of convoluting their employment contracts to the extent that no one understood that they were paying themselves impossibly high salaries and of ensuring the cooperation of the Bell City Council by doing the same thing for the council members.
Council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole and Victor Bello were all convicted of misappropriating public funds by sitting on Bell’s Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, an entity they could not prove had been legally established or did any work. Records show that in five years it met only one time. However, the panel of seven women and five men acquitted the defendants of some counts and were deadlocked 9-3 in favor of guilt on others.
Former Councilman and the pastor of Bell Community Church Luis Artiga was acquitted of all charges.
On October 4, 2013, Robert Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 charges, only days before he was to go on trial for misappropriation of funds and related crimes. Judge Kathleen Kennedy told Rizzo during his plea that he would be sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in prison at his sentencing scheduled for March 12, 2014. Rizzo faced up to 70 years on all counts.
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