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Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown sues eight top Bell officials [Updated]

September 15, 2010 |  8:56 am

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef0133f35326fb970b-320wiState Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown on Wednesday sued eight top Bell officials and council members, alleging fraud, civil conspiracy and waste of public funds in the first legal action related to the city's salary scandal.

Brown demanded that the officials return hundreds of thousands of dollars in unwarranted salaries. He also said he would expand his probe into public salaries in general and called for specific legislative action to reform salary and pension action. He also announced that he would serve subpoenas on the city of Vernon, which has also come under scrutiny for giving city officials excessive salaries.

Brown launched the investigation after The Times reported that former city administrator Robert Rizzo was earning nearly $800,000 and council members were being paid nearly $100,000 a year for council and agency meetings, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef013485ba0fc7970c-800wisome of which met for only one minute.

Both the attorney general and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office have opened wide-ranging investigations into allegations of voter fraud, conflict of interest and excessive salaries in the Southeast L.A. County city. Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department also said it had launched an investigation into civil-rights violations focusing in part on allegations that the city improperly used towing fees and other municipal fines to generate revenues.

In addition to Rizzo's $787,637 salary, he received additional benefits that boosted his total annual compensation to more than $1.5 million. Other top administrators were also well compensated. Bell paid Police Chief Randy Adams $457,000 a year, about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and more than double New York City's police commissioner. Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288 annually, more than most city managers. All three resigned amid public uproar.

Bell has about 40,000 residents. It is one of the poorest cities in the county, with a population that is about 90% Latino and 53% foreign-born. Its per-capita income is about half that of the U.S.

Vernon is also a new target of investigation. Eric T. Fresch, a former Vernon city administrator who now serves as a legal consultant, has topped the $1-million mark for each of the last four years, records show.

Other highly compensated employees include Donal O'Callaghan, who was paid nearly $785,000 last year as city administrator and director of light and power, overseeing Vernon's city-owned utility. He now earns $384,000 a year overseeing capital projects for the utility after stepping down July 20 as city administrator.

[Updated at 9 a.m.: Brown's lawsuit was filed against former City Manager Rizzo, former Assistant City Manager Spaccia, former Police Chief Adams, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabel and former council members Victor Bello and George Cole.

The suit alleges that defendants deliberately misled the public about the true amount of their compensation.

The suit also demands that the defendants return all excessive compensation.

The Times reported Wednesday that Rizzo misled council members and members of the public about his salary. A press release released by Brown's office cites a "phony memorandum prepared for public distribution" that showed council members were paid $673 a month rather than $7,666 per month. The memo also noted that Rizzo was paid $15,478 monthly rather than the $52,325 he actually received.

"I'm going to continue to do everything in my power to go after corrupt officials who, rather than doing the public's business, scheme behind closed doors to line their own pockets," Brown said in a statement.]

For complete coverage of Bell, see www.latimes.com/bell.

--Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives

Photo: Robert Rizzo. Credit: Huntington Beach Police Department. Bell council members at meeting. Credit: Los Angeles Times.