Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Prosecutors probe Bell for possible election fraud, conflicts of interest, improper salaries

July 27, 2010 |  3:23 pm

L.A. County prosecutors have launched a multipronged investigation into the city of Bell, examining allegations of voter fraud as well as conflicts of interest involving city business.

In an interview with The Times, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley described the investigation as “rapidly expanding and full-fledged,” saying investigators have been gathering evidence since March.

Cooley’s comments indicate a larger probe than prosecutors had acknowledged up to now.

Until now, the district attorney has said it was looking at what it called high salaries paid to City Council members, who earned nearly $100,000 until they cut their own salaries on Monday. But Cooley said that part of the probe is specifically looking at whether council members received pay for meetings they didn’t attend.

Cooley declined to provide details about the voting fraud probe, other than to say it involves more than one election. Sources with knowledge of the investigation said prosecutors are looking into the use of absentee ballots during a 2009 City Council election.

Cooley’s comments come as a lawsuit filed by a former Bell police officer Monday alleged that several Bell police officers distributed absentee ballots and told residents whom to vote for in advance of that 2009 election.

The allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed by James Corcoran, who says he was forced out of his job for  informing authorities about the officers' actions as well as for a variety of other actions that he says top city leaders did not like.

According to the lawsuit, Corcoran in 2009 reported to the California Secretary of State’s chief investigator and the FBI “that off-duty police officers were taking absentee ballots and providing them to voters to fill out.”

Corcoran claimed that officers instructed individuals how to vote and that some ballots were filled out for deceased people. 

Bell has been under scrutiny since The Times revealed two weeks ago that its city manager earned more than $800,000 a year, making him perhaps the highest paid in the nation. Robert Rizzo agreed to step down last week.

-- Richard Winton, Andrew Blankstein, Jeff Gottlieb and Paloma Esquivel

Investigating Bell: A Times special report:

Is a city manager worth $800,000?

In depth: High salaries in Bell

Interactive: How the salaries got so high

Bell residents are not happy about high salaries

High salaries fuel anger in Bell

Bell council members under investigation for $100,000 salaries

Video: Why do Bell officials make so much money? The Times' Jeff Gottlieb explains.

Bell city manager might be highest paid in nation

Bell council found loophole to allow big salaries

Photos: Protests in Bell