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Jerry Brown wants Bell officials to resign, give up pensions; says they defrauded public

September 15, 2010 | 10:52 am

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, as part of a sweeping civil lawsuit filed Wednesday against Bell city leaders, is asking a court to order city officials to vacate their positions and nullify contracts that inflated pay for other top administrators.

“What is clear is that the City Council and city administrator and other officials abused their public trust. They engaged in a collaboration that [amounted] to a civil conspiracy to defraud the public,” Brown said at a news conference Wednesday morning in announcing the lawsuit.

The attorney general is also launching a probe into salaries and other issues in the neighboring city of Vernon and also looking at excessive salaries statewide.

“This is a matter that cries out for justice," Brown said.

Brown's requests are laid out in a lawsuit filed Wednesday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The lawsuit, which alleges fraud and misuse of public funds, names eight top Bell officials, including former City Manager Robert Rizzo, former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, former Police Chief Randy Adams and several current and former city council members.

The lawsuit also asks for an order requiring defendants to make restitution to the city for excessive compensation they approved or accepted as well as for excessive contributions made to their California Public Employees' Retirement System pension fund and supplemental retirement fund.

The lawsuit also seeks a judgment that would disqualify the high salaries from being used to determine pension payments.

In retirement, Rizzo would become the state's highest-paid pensioner, earning at least $600,000 annually.  Adams would be the third-highest, receiving an estimated $411,000. CalPERS officials have said they are looking into the pensions and that the highly paid administrators would not be able to draw their pensions until it is determined whether city officials broke any laws.

Brown is also seeking to bar the council members, as well as the former top administrators, from ever holding public office.

In response, Rizzo's attorney, Jim Spertus, noted that Brown is running for governor. "At this particular point in the election cycle, it doesn't surprise me that charges have been filed," Spertus said.

"I have not reviewed the charges but I will do so."

Brown launched the investigation after The Times reported that 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.

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. average.

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  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. Spaccia made $376,288 annually, more than most city managers. All three resigned amid public uproar.

Brown's lawsuit was filed against Rizzo, Spaccia, Adams, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabel and former council members Victor Bello and George Cole.

-- Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives

Top photo: Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown announces that he is filing a lawsuit against top officials in Bell. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: Bell Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, left, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, councilman George Mirabal and councilman Luis Artiga. Jacobo and Hernandez are named in the lawsuit. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Full coverage: www.latimes.com/bell