Fired Bell official's lawsuit says city owes him $837,000
One of the highest paid officials in Bell, fired at the peak of the corruption investigation that included a search of his house, has sued the city for $837,000, including a payout for 329 unused sick and vacation days.
Eric Eggena was fired shortly after the salaries of the top rung of municipal officials in Bell were made public. Eight former officials are now facing criminal charges and, while Eggena is not among them, his house was searched as the L.A. County district attorney's office built its public corruption case.
"His name came up a lot during our investigation, and he certainly received a suspiciously high salary," Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman said.
When Eggena went to work for Bell in 2002 he earned $90,000 a year, but his salary nearly tripled over the next eight years with his total compensation swelling to $421,000 annually, in the top tier of city officials nationwide.
In addition to his salary, the city paid the employee portion of Eggena's Medicare and Social Security deductions, and he accumulated double sick and vacation time, according to his contracts.
"I think it's simply outrageous," said Anthony Taylor, an attorney for Bell.
Eggena was one of several officials in Bell who received outsized salaries and benefits, led by former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo, whose compensation reached $1.5 million a year, along with 107 vacation days and 36 sick days a year.
While Eggena was in charge of code enforcement in Bell, the city collected tens of thousands of dollars from business owners and scavengers cited for violating city laws. The Times found that Bell officials created official-looking documents and told violators that they had to pay the city. The vast majority of these cases never were filed with the court, as they were supposed to be.
The Times also found that Eggena and Rizzo were involved in a deal in which the city bought a piece of land for more than double its assessed value as part of an unusual redevelopment deal that required the seller to donate $425,000 back to the city — a sum that cannot be accounted for.
Eggena's lawsuit, filed June 29 but not served on the city until last week, says the former city official's contract entitles him to 18 months of severance in addition to 192 days of vacation time and 137 sick days and contributions to deferred compensation plans.
By filing a lawsuit, Eggena leaves himself open to depositions and questions about his activities in Bell from the city's attorneys.
Eggena's lawyer, Richard A. Shinee, took issue with characterizations of the fringe benefits and salary as being unusual. He also said the city must honor the contract, regardless of the terms.
"This guy was on the team that helped the city substantially with regard to revenue and city housing and was compensated," Shinee said.
-- Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Eric Eggena at a Bell City Council meeting in 2010. Credit: Christina House / For The Times