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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)

This shows what people can do. We don't need fringe groups to speak for us, if everybody just takes their community back, we could fix the country.

All this going on and the residents never questioned their high taxes? No complaints filed? Shame on them!!!!!

Well, Rizzo should have plenty of funds to pay for his defense.


This is definitely a step in the right direction, but let's not forget these are small time crooks. It would be even better if torturers and criminals from Bush administration were prosecuted as well. But, that would require democrats to grow balls...

Oh dear, if they're Democrats, how long will it be until Dear Leader points out that the police acted stupidly?

High praise to the LA Times for staying on top of this story - without them Rizzo the Rat would still be plundering the city coffers.

Why is there no party affiliation mentioned? Oh, I forgot, only do that when they're Repubs...


Who says there isn't ever any good news in the paper?

With all that is coming up in the open with the City of Bell, I am surprised that no one has thought of investigating City of Irwindale. Just a suggestion...

I don't think city officials run on political platforms. I don't think they run under Party affiliation, for all of those asking what Party they represent.

Good Job LA Times!!! In times like these, finding corruption and prosecuting is definitely good news. Now what about Vernon?

With unbias, informative journalism and a united front from the people, this is what we can accomplish.

@LA Times: Please keep uncovering these types of stories and leave the celebrity non-sense stories behind. Great job!

Justice ? At least they are going for the ride

phen McCray Melonka McCray misappropriation of public funds and thieves of children

The recording studio that was for the children, instruments, commercial kitchen supplies and sporting goods- all went to their own children after they were shut down by LAUSD but the fact that they commited fraud was not known by LAUSD when they were shut down- the fraud part was discovered and brought to LAUSD attention by none other than a family member of Stephen and Melonka McCray and still nothing was done about it- despite the evidence and witnesses and photos provided! Unbelievable.

This occurred at SoCal Academy of Arts and Sciences (SCAAS) in Los Angeles off Vermont before it was closed down. Records that they asked TO BE DESTROYED were retained and will prove that they were both paid excessive sums of money and employed relatives including a sister, mother, sons daughter and even personal friends and that Stephen McCray received AT LEAST $8,000 PER MONTH and sometimes even more and he only appeared or did work with for the school maybe 3 times during its entire existence. why has this been shunned and ignored? why are they getting away with this? additionally, the state of the art recording studio ($30k+), tons of computer, instruments, books, sporting goods and kitchen supplies (industrial freezer and industrial fridge valued at $5k a PIECE) were carted off to their home at 4119 charlene drive, los angeles, ca 90043 when the school was closed. despicable!

Mr McCray is still principal within Lawndale school district and he retires in about 2 years. This criminal duo are also pending criminal trial for forgery- educators gone wrong.

I personally know Chief Randy Adams, and to see that Cooley (who know him too) is given Adams a free pass on this investigation is troubling. Chief Adams should have known beyond a reasonable doubt that his salary from PERS and from the City of Bell smelled "fishy"! Bell officials rubbed Adams back with the huge salary and in return Adams look away with a blind eye. Cooley should do the right thing and dig deeper in everyone involved including Adams (I didn't know excuse is not a defense)!

#1 - every single one of the council members were democrats.
#2 - Exactly which law was broken? They were voted in to office by the residents of Bell. They increased taxes and then authorized more money to be paid to themselves. Happens all the time. What actual law was broken other than each member of the city council being complete dolts?

Apparently, Rizzo's Gluttony required More Food, Lots More Food, which mandated $877,000 per year salary!!!!!!

Why does the liberal media keep failing to mention all these corrupt fatties are DEMOCRATS ??????????????

Send them over to Beaumont, it happens here all the time

Please ,,, Please LA Times or some ingenius person out there. Open a website so that people out there that are familiar with these type of injustices can openly report them and our lovid journalists of the LA times can investigate them.

I do not have faith that this will solve the problem of grossly overpaid public employees. Frankly, the way the system is set up, what these guys in Bell did was very likely legal rather than illegal. In other words, it may be a ripoff, and it may be not ethical, and it may stink, but I doubt criminal charges will stick.

I think a lot of the charges were ramrodded by Jerry Brown's campaign for Governor. It was Jerry who set up the conditions that let public employee unions/employees get away with this, and had it not been for the Great Recession, and an upcoming election, no one would have done a thing. In California, Jerry Brown has allowed the public employees to become a rich and powerful nobility, as wealthy and corrupt as anything that existed in Medieval Europe.

I think in the election this will haunt Jerry Brown. I also think the charges will get dropped once the election is over. At this late hour, it is too late for Jerry Brown to repair the damage, especially as the Bell story is the mere tip of a huge iceberg.

To MM: City Councils are non-partisan and office holders do not represent a specific political party. Council members can not run for office as Republicans or Democrats - not do they receive election funding from political parties. The city manager is appointed by the council and is not affiliated with a political party.
These were reforms passed during the early part of the 20th century to combat the "boss system" when political party machines dominated city politics around the country.
Guess it didn't work!


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