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Rizzo, other Bell officials misused affordable-housing funds, state audit finds

October 20, 2010 | 12:08 pm


Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo and other top administrators paid part of their high salaries by taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a fund that was to be used to provide housing for low-income residents in the small working-class city, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

In addition, the audit found the city consistently misused the affordable-housing funds by spending the money on everything from cellphone fees to automotive costs.

State Controller John Chiang said his office found repeated management failures and at least $1.2 million of what it described as “inappropriate payments” in its redevelopment agency and gas tax funds.

Chiang wrote Bell Interim City Administrator Pedro Carrillo that "we found apparent misuse of redevelopment funds for personal gain by the former Chief Administrator and other senior officials. There is no evidence to suggest that the redevelopment agency governing board, comprised entirely of the members of the Bell City Council, engaged in any meaningful oversight of the Redevelopment Agency activities.”

The audit found that council members were paid $55.38 every two weeks as redevelopment board members even though the board sometimes never met and the majority of the meetings lasted for three minutes or less. It also found that two people received $27.69 every other week even though they no longer were board members.

The auditor last month found the city improperly collected about $2.9 million in taxes from July 2007 to June 2010.

That report described Bell as city with no fiscal controls and one that had placed its treasury entirely in the hands of Rizzo.

“These audit revelations bring us one step closer to a full and complete accounting of what went wrong in the city of Bell,” Chiang said Wednesday. “Public money dedicated to increasing affordable housing and maintaining local roads were instead used as a self-indulgent slush fund to pay for excessive salaries, perks and other unlawful expenses.”

The audit found that $242,268 from a redevelopment fund was used to pay the salaries of Rizzo, Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia and Director of Administrative Services Lourdes Garcia, although there was no evidence they did any work for the fund.

The controller's office is just one of several agencies investigating activities in Bell, including the Los Angeles County district attorney, the state attorney general, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

--Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Robert Rizzo in court last month. Credit: L.A. Times