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

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.

Comments () | Archives (353)

Dear LA Times: Great work! For your next act, would you please, please take on the federal government?

This will some day make a good movie.

This is great news! Let's hope they are convicted and do prison time! As poet John Donne wrote, "...never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. "

Justice has finally arrived to city of Bell.

Now we, the residents of City of Bell , have the opportunity to rebuild our city in which every stakeholder has a say on city business, so this never happens again.

I am proud to be a resident of city of bell and member of BASTA

When is Steve Cooley actually going to charge a public official with malfeasance in office?

The situation in Bell would never have occurred if public officials in Los Angeles County were not so confident that this District Attorney refuses to investigate and prosecute public officials who knowingly violate laws.

Bell is like shooting fish in a barrel because the criminality is obvious. The crimes and misdemeanors are themselves criminal offenses. The more insidious corruption of Los Angeles are the public officials who deliberately violate various laws and the DA has done nothing at all to stop it. After a while, the criminal behavior becomes more and more bold -- until we have a City of Bell situation.

Let's stop looking at the train wreck of Bell and focus on other Los Angeles County bodies like City of Los Angeles, the County, or the school districts.

What is the political party affiliation of Bell Council Members and City Manager?

Why does that not seem to ever be mentioned in the news?

Thank you LATimes for doing what government officials failed to do, expose these crooks.

a drop in the bucket.

What is the party affiliation of the Bell employees?

Hurray! Now how about Maywood?

Yea Team!! Throw 'em in jail and get rid of the key!

Great investigative reporting, LA Times! Still serving as a community watchdog, even after years of cutbacks.

book em.

"...according to a source with knowledge of the case who was not authorized to comment publicly."

Obviously the same type of people who leak government secrets without authorization.

Pond scum.

Nice going LAT for breaking this story. This type of journalism is exactly what I will gladly continue to support through my subscription.

City of Bell - 1

Politicians - 0

Now let's hear the funny comments from James Spertus about how innocent The Penquin is. C'mon James, we are waiting!!!

If only we could get the corporate crooks who ran our country into the ground arrested so quickly...one could hope :)

Thank Gawd the City of Bell has UNLIMITED amounts of taxpayer funding to pay for their defenses!

Whatever the highest award is for investigative jounalism is, the Los Angeles Times deserves it in this case. While i disagree with many stories and opinions the Times provides, these Bell reports shows the absolute value of a good newspaper.

This is awesome news. I don't live in Bell, but I used to work there. The people are good and hard working. I'm so stoked that the USA is still a place where corruption and greed doesn't go unpunished.

YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now waiting for receivership.

hhhhhmmmmmmm......a change of venue may be in the offing me thinks?

Let's put Bell in recivership so we can stop the illegal Pedro Carrillo coverup!


WatchOurCity.com posted a report on August 24, 2010, exposing that in 2002 in a
failed bid for a State Assembly seat, Carrillo had received thousands of dollars in
campaign contributions from George Cole, Robert Rizzo and from the convicted
felon and former Bell Councilman Pete Werrlein, then hiding the donor identity of
Pete Werrlein.

In 2007, Carrillo was hired by George Cole as the interim Director of the Southeast
Cities Schools Coalition. The Coalition's meeting minutes which are posted on line,
clearly indicate that both George Cole and Pedro Carrillo attended meetings
together. At the same time, Carrillo was working on contract basis with the city of
Bell under Rizzo.

While Director of the Southeast Cities Schools Coalition, Pedro Carrillo, under the
direction of board members, whom included Bell council member Teresa Jacobo,
Carrillo worked to create a "Foundation" placing George Cole as its Director. The
Schools Coalition is attempting to break away from LAUSD. Board meetings are
held in Vernon City Hall on a permanent basis. When the Coalition was seeking a
replacement Director, it authorized Pedro Carrillo to negotiate a contract with the
Coalitions' current Director, Ramon Miramontes. The Coalition has a staff attorney,
but for some reason, the city of South Gate's city attorney reviewed the contract
with Miramontes as negotiated by Pedro Carrillo.

Excellent! I hope the District Attorney comes down hard on these thieves. I hope they end up in jail where they belong. Stay tuned The City of Maywood will be next.

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