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Rizzo faces 53 counts; Bell was 'corruption on steroids,' D.A. Cooley says [Updated]

September 21, 2010 | 11:23 am

161144.ME.0921.BELL.01.RRC
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley filed charges against eight current and former Bell officials Tuesday, alleging that they misappropriated $5.5 million in public funds. Robert Rizzo, Bell's former city manager, has been charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest.

The charges come after a dramatic morning in which authorities swept through Bell and other cities, arresting former and current Bell officials.

Among those arrested were Rizzo; Angela Spaccia, former assistant city manager; Mayor Oscar Hernandez; councilmembers George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo and Luis Artiga; and former councilmembers George Cole and Victor Bello.

"This is corruption on steroids," Cooley said. 

[Updated at 11:28 a.m.: Cooley said officials used the city's tax dollars "as their own piggy bank that they then looted at will."

He said that councilmembers, who earned salaries of nearly $100,000, received $1.2 million for "phantom meetings" -- many which never occurred or lasted only a minute or two.  

Police Chief Randy Adams, who also stepped down after The Times reported he was earning $457,000, was not arrested.

"Being paid excessive amounts is not a crime," Cooley said, noting that the investigation is ongoing.

Bail for Rizzo has been set at $3.2 million. Bail for the others ranges from $130,000 to $377,500.]

Rizzo, whose high salary sparked the outrage that led to the investigations of the city, was among those arrested in the sweep. At 10 a.m., officials emerged from Rizzo's luxury home in Huntington Beach. Rizzo, handcuffed, was escorted into a black SUV. 

In Bell, a neighbor of Hernandez said authorities used a battering ram on his front door after he failed to answer the door.

"They broke the door down," said the neighbor, who only gave his name as Jose. "They knocked down the door and they brought him out in cuffs."

The city of Bell released a statement about the arrests, calling it a "sad day" for the city.

“Given the sheer volume of charges levied against former Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo and former Assistant CAO Angela Spaccia by the district attorney, it is clear that Rizzo and Spaccia were at the root of the cancer that has afflicted the City of Bell. Also, it is a sad day for Bell that four current and two former members of the council also have been arrested. I am prepared to double down our efforts to continue to restore order, establish good government reforms, and to ensure that Bell is providing needed services to its residents,” said Pedro Carrillo, interim city manager.

Outside City Hall, about two dozen residents gathered as news of the arrests spread. One man used a bullhorn to broadcast the Queen song, "Another One Bites the Dust." Members of the crowd laughed and applauded, happy to see arrests in the scandal.

For two months, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and state and federal authorities have investigated Bell, where high salaries earned by Rizzo and other top officials have sparked widespread outrage. The Times reported last month that Rizzo was set to earn more than $1.5 million in 2010. Additionally, he gave loans totaling $1.6 million to more than 50 city officials, including himself.

-- Jack Leonard, Jeff Gottlieb, Ruben Vives and Richard Winton

Credit: Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announces the arrests of eight current and former Bell city officials. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Photos: Arrests in Bell

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