Bell’s Rizzo used tax breaks, hefty workers' compensation payoffs to force people out, former employees say
The city of Bell said it has overhauled its workers compensation process for "better checks and balances," but must still review all disability pensions approved by its former city administrator Robert Rizzo.
"It appears the system … did not follow best practices and that it was set up for a few folks to be able to operate without checks and balances," Bell's interim chief administrative officer Pedro Carrillo said. He has already replaced the city's workers' compensation attorney and third-party administrator.
But the state retirement system has sent a letter to the city asking for a complete review of disability retirement cases approved by Rizzo "given the pending criminal charges and civil allegations."
Rizzo approved disability pensions for at least 10 police officers -- including four chiefs -- that could bring them millions of dollars in extra benefits.
The California Public Employees Retirement System acted after The Times asked officials about allegations that Bell had used disability pensions and workers' compensation settlements to boost payments to police chiefs as they were being forced from their jobs over the last decade. In some instances, two retirees said, the city wrapped severance, unused vacation and sick time into the workers' compensation settlements. Experts said this practice violates tax codes.
"If Rizzo wanted to get rid of you, he'd make some way to pay you off and make it beneficial for you financially," former Chief Andreas Probst said. "Too many people I can name retired on medical. Bob took care of them."
CalPERS sent a letter to Bell last week asking that the city determine whether disability retirements approved by Rizzo were based on "competent medical opinion." The system also asked Bell about getting "updated medical evaluations to confirm that these members are still substantially incapacitated from performing regular duties." If the review finds problems, the benefits could be curtailed.
-- Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives