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Bell officials arrested as prosecutors are set to file criminal charges [Updated]

September 21, 2010 |  9:31 am

Bell
Bell-rizzo
At least eight city of Bell officials were arrested Tuesday morning, a source said, as L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley prepared to announce criminal charges in the municipal salary scandal.

[Updated at 10 a.m.: Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, whose high salary sparked the outrage that led to the investigations of the city, was among those arrested in the sweep. No details have been released, but a source not authorized to speak publicly about the case said that Rizzo; former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia; Mayor Oscar Hernandez; Councilmembers Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal; and former Councilmembers George Cole and Victor Bello were among those arrested.

[Updated at 11:22 p.m.: Cooley filed charges against eight Bell officials Tuesday, alleging that they misappropriated $5.5 million in public funds. Rizzo has been charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest.

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

"This is corruption on steroids," Cooley said.]

The charges are expected to be detailed at a morning press conference, according to a source with knowledge of the case who was not authorized to comment publicly. A witness told The Times he saw Councilman Luis Artiga taken away in handcuffs Tuesday morning.

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."]

For two months, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and state and federal authorities have investigated Bell, where high salaries earned by former City Manager Robert 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.

Cooley has said his office was examining whether the various financial transactions in Bell amounted to thefts of public funds. The office is also looking into allegations of voter fraud and whether the high salaries earned by Rizzo and others were legal.

Last week, California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit against current and former Bell city leaders demanding that their pay contracts be nullified and that they pay back some of their salaries and pension benefits. Artiga was not one of those named in the lawsuit, and he said he was working with investigators.

Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down in July after the salary scandal broke. City Council members — who were earning nearly $100,000 a year — significantly slashed their pay.

The full audit by state Controller John Chiang's office has previously found that Bell illegally overtaxed residents and businesses by $5.6 million. In addition to the retirement funds, Rizzo received two city loans of $80,000, officials said.

After The Times disclosed the loans, city officials said they were suspending the loan program and were trying to determine how many of the loans were repaid.

-- Jack Leonard, Ruben Vives and Richard Winton

Photo: Photo of police outside Bell councilmember Geroge Mirabal's home Tuesday morning. The photo was supplied by a Bell resident who wished to remain anonymous. Below: Rizzo under arrest. Daily Pilot.

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