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Bell hopes to take back $4.5 million found in pension account created by Rizzo

April 26, 2011 |  8:12 am

Bell City Council

Bell officials said they are trying to determine whether they can use any of the $4.5 million discovered in a supplemental retirement account former city administrator Robert Rizzo created for some city employees.

The existence of the $4.5 million was revealed in grand jury transcripts The Times obtained Monday.

Times Investigation: Articles, photos and interactive graphics on Bell corruption scandal

The discovery of the money could be a boost for the finances of Bell, whose entire operating budget is about $13 million and is facing major cuts in the wake of a corruption scandal.

But it remains unclear whether Bell can gain access to the money. City officials said they have directed the staff to study the issue and come back with recommendations.

Councilman Danny Harber said attorneys are now looking at how the city could get the money back into its coffers, adding that the funds would be hugely helpful in bringing down Bell's deficit.

"It's certainly something we'll look into, but it shows you what the previous administration's focus was and that was to milk the city's finances and enrich themselves," added Mayor Ali Saleh.

Interim city manager Pedro Carrillo warned earlier this year that the city was in deep financial trouble and could face a deficit as high as $4.5 million by the end of the fiscal year. Carrillo outlined several drastic options such as cutting municipal services and even disbanding the Police Department.

According to the grand jury transcripts, Rizzo established two pension plans designed to provide retirement income — above the level he and other employees would receive from the state pension system. One retirement account covered about 40 employees, giving them benefits that exceeded those allowed by California's public employee pension rules.

A second was just for Rizzo and his deputy, Angela Spaccia, according to the transcripts, allowing them to get around Internal Revenue Service regulations capping government pensions.


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Photo: Members of the new Bell City Council, left to right: Mayor Ali Saleh, Nestor E. Valencia, Violeta Alvarez, Vice Mayor Danny Harber and Ana Maria Quintana, reacted with anger to the revelation of supplemental retirement accounts. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times