Bell corruption hearings set to begin Monday
Preliminary hearings for eight current and former Bell city officials charged with corruption, including misappropriating more than $5.5 million, are expected to begin Monday.
There are to be three separate hearings, one after the other, said Jennifer Lentz Snyder, head deputy of the district attorney's public integrity division.
The charges were filed after a series of articles by The Times detailing the high salaries of Bell city officials and the activities of Robert Rizzo, the city's longtime chief administrative officer.
In the first case, prosecutors are scheduled to present evidence against current council members Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal and former council members Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello. They are charged with being paid for work on four city commissions that seldom or never met, or met only for a few minutes.
When they were arrested in September, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said they had collected more than $1.2 million in total pay since 2006 for presiding over these meetings, which by last year had boosted council salaries to nearly $100,000.
The defendants in the second preliminary hearing are to be Hernandez, Rizzo and former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia. Rizzo and Spaccia are charged with misappropriation of public funds for writing their own employment contracts, which came with huge salaries. The contracts were not approved by the council. Rizzo, who faces more than 50 counts, is also charged with giving nearly $1.9 million in unauthorized city loans to himself, about 50 Bell employees, the owner of a Chevrolet dealership and a foundation run by Cole, then a councilman.
An audit by the state controller's office found the city repaid $96,000 in loans Rizzo made to himself from his retirement accounts.
Artiga and Hernandez are charged because they each received $20,000 loans.
Rizzo is also charged with falsifying public records to keep his salary secret. He was set to receive about $1.5 million in compensation last year.
In the final hearing, Rizzo is charged with conflict of interest for his dealings with Dennis Tarango, who served as the city's privately contracted planning director until recently. The state controller's office found the city had paid Tarango's engineering firms $10.4 million since 1995. Rizzo and Tarango owned racehorses together.
Snyder said Rizzo was charged because he could not be involved in a decision in which he had a financial stake.
The hearings are expect to last three weeks to a month.
-- Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Former Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo is arrested at his home in Huntington Beach on Sept. 21, 2010. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times