September 21st, 2010
02:46 PM ET

Ex-city manager among 8 arrested in Bell, California

Robert Rizzo, former city manager of Bell, California, was making $787,638 a year.

Eight current and former Bell, California, city officials were arrested Tuesday in connection with a probe conducted by the Los Angeles County district attorney, a source close to the investigation told CNN.

High salaries paid to city officials sparked local outrage and national attention when they came to light in July. Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia resigned after media reports they were each making several hundred thousand dollars a year.

District Attorney Steve Cooley planned to speak to reporters about Bell on Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown sued eight current and former officials "to recover the excess salaries" that Bell officials were being paid. He also was pursuing a reduction of their pension benefits.

See CNN's full coverage

"This is a very serious matter when public officials breach their duty to the public and enrich themselves with enormous, obscene salaries which then trigger pensions of similar magnitude," Brown said.

Named in the suit were Rizzo, Adams, Spaccia, council members Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabel and former council members Victor Bello and George Cole. The suit accuses them of fraud, civil conspiracy, waste of public funds and breach of fiduciary duty. It also alleges they deliberately misled citizens about the accurate amount of their pay.

Brown's suit demanded that they return all excessive compensation and asked the court to set "appropriate salary levels for pension purposes."

Bell, located in southeast Los Angeles County, had 36,624 residents as of the 2000 census. The median annual income is less than $35,000.

Rizzo's last annual base salary was $787,638, Adams earned was $457,000 and Spaccia received $336,000, according to Brown's office. Before recently cutting their pay, Bell City Council members received $96,000 a year, compared to $4,800 a year earned by council members in similar-sized cities.

Since 1993, the council raised Rizzo's salary 16 times, with an average jump of 14 percent yearly, the attorney general said. In 2005, he received an increase of 47 percent. Since 2001, City Council members also awarded themselves 16-percent raises yearly.

Brown said Rizzo prepared a memo for the public saying council members received $673 a month and he was paid $15,478 a month. In reality, council members earned more than $7,600 a month and Rizzo earned more than $52,325 a month.

Rizzo's attorney, Jim Spertus, said last week he was not surprised by the lawsuit or the actions of Brown, who is running for governor. Rizzo's salary, he said, was approved by the City Council. "There's nothing wrong there."

He said Rizzo would have retired before, but the city wanted him to stay on, and he was paid through negotiations similar to those taking place in private companies.

"It's a misguided effort to assign blame in the wrong place," Spertus said. "Mr. Rizzo is not at fault for the problems of Bell."

Brown, who said his suit was separate from a criminal probe, said he plans to expand a statewide investigation of public salaries and benefits, and he called for legislative reform. He said he was serving a subpoena on the city of Vernon, which is near Bell, "to obtain compensation records for city officials and employees."

News articles have reported one Vernon city official received an annual salary of $785,000, and another received a total of $1.6 million in compensation in a single year, according to Brown. Vernon has a population of less than 100 people.

Also last week, acting California Gov. Abel Maldonado signed legislation to return "illegal and excessive taxes" to Bell residents.

California State Controller John Chiang said last month that property owners in Bell paid an estimated $3 million in extra taxes over the past three years. Bell passed an "illegal resolution in 2007 that resulted in a 50 percent increase in the tax rate over the course of three years," according to the governor's office.

Chiang said Bell began raising property tax rates in 2007 to pay for pension obligations, even though state law caps those taxes at the rate used in fiscal year 1983-84. The lower rates would deliver, for example, an estimated $250 in annual savings on a property worth $275,000.

The new law requires the city to send the money to Los Angeles County by December 31 so the county can begin issuing tax refunds to homeowners.

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Filed under: California • Crime • Economy
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Joshua

    Looking good Rizzo baby! You greedy boy! I can't wait to see you in a nice orange prison jumpsuit.. gordito!

    September 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Davida

    So, I guess Obama and his administration will have to admit that our greedy friends on Wall St aren't so different from the masses. Everyone, it seems is greedy and clearly public employees, middle class workers and unions who bargain for ridiculously unwarranted benefits are now called out. In Obama's rants against the rich, high net worth individuals and corporate profit ring pretty hollow when it is clear folks at all levels of society spew greed and lack ethics.

    September 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mel Daly

    I could not believe my eyes when I saw that Mr. Adams was allowed to resign and NOT ARRESTED. He was CHIEF OF POLICE in fact his conduct is substantially more eggregious then either the mayor or the city manager. THIS MAN HAS TO BE BOOKED FOR A FELONY OR ALL JUSTICE IN CALIFORNIA IS A JOKE. He was knowingly assisting in the bankrupting of the citizen of his community. Did he not take the law enforcement ethics oath? His and probably a room full of other crooks pay and pensions have created sytemic corruption across the board. False arrests are commonplace and other lawyers look the other way as long as the caseload fills the docket. MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE GROANING IN THEIR CELLS AND millions more of their families suffer and worse driven into poverty so their oppressors can live in abject wealth and comfort. Where by the way does Mr. Adamas reside? Probably not Bell California see folks thats what its all about these people go to other communities ruin the lives of the citizens and children there and then go back somewhere else and live like aristocrats. This case is unusual only in its magnitude entired swaths of our country have been completely bankrupted by the legal/corrections system as well as having made america into an orwellian police state solely to concentrate wealth and power around themselves.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mel Daly

    To make bad worse a great many municipal police and chiefs utilize a loophole that allows them to keep their single maximum year of salary when they retire so every chips in and ole joe retires at a sizeable amount more than what they every drew in salary. Their are tens of thousands of retired policemen in new jersey drawing pensions in excess of 100k. At some point the disparity between salaries and pensions between those who enforce the law and have a vested interest in filling the jails and what the average citizen in their community makes must become felonious. This giant disparity directly drives corruption and has directly led to the complete erosion all the rights guaranteed us by the bill of rights as well as a massive wave of false arrests the like of which the world has never seen. We need a law to salary and pension cap all municipal and state employees. The money is just too lucrative and attracts the wrong people. Anyone who can't well on 70k a year should just retire then. We need people who are actually civil servants. Towards this end I am suggesting and beginning a drive to ask the governors of all 50 states to salary and pension cap all police and state agencies. A criminal threshold must also be established for the worst of the offenders. To have knowingly exercised a loophole that would allow you to draw so much more than what your salary was should be a crime and all lawyers, and police union representatives and persons who participated any and all bargaining must be held accountable for the criminal conduct that has destroyed our freedom and rendered many many communities bankrupt.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
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