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Lawsuit demands money back from Bell leaders

September 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
California Attorney General Jerry Brown's office has filed civil lawsuits against eight Bell officials, accusing them of fraud and conspiracy following a salary scandal.Brown's lawsuit alleges there was fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and public waste. It names city council members, three top administrators, including the city administrator, and the former chief of police.

The suit demand city officials, including former City Manager Robert Rizzo and three current council members, return hundreds of thousands of dollars of what Brown calls their "obscene salaries." The suit also calls for reduction of pension benefits for the officials.

"This is a very serious matter when public officials breach their duty to the public and enrich themselves with enormous and obscene salaries, which then trigger pensions of similar magnitude," said Brown.

The acting city attorney says he's still going through the lawsuit and could not comment yet. Calls to spokespeople for the city were not returned Wednesday.

The lawsuit says the Bell City Council approved and signed whatever Rizzo directed them to approve and sign.

"There's a standard, and that standard is that the pay must be commensurate with the duty and the work. And we believe that clearly here, the facts indicate that went beyond that, and therefore any excess must be returned," said Brown at Wednesday's news conference.

Along with Rizzo, those named in the lawsuit are former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia; ex-Police Chief Randy Adams; council members Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabel; and former council members Victor Bello and George Cole.

The L.A. County District Attorney is looking into the possibility of criminal charges.

Brown also said his investigators will take a closer look into other cities where the annual salaries of officials exceed $300,000 and will ask legislators to reform salary and pension practices. The district attorney's office served a subpoena on the city of Vernon as part of its expanding salary investigation. The subpoena aims to obtain compensation records for city leaders and employees.

Rizzo resigned after his excessive annual salary of $800,000 was exposed.

"I would like to see Rizzo go to jail. I'd like to see us get all of what he owns back, because he paid for it on our hard earned money and I would like to see all these CalPERS pensions to be wiped clean because I don't feel that we should have to be responsible for a lot of the stuff. If it's illegally taken, we should have to pay for it," said Bell resident Donna Gannon.

When asked why his office went about the suit in a civil route and not criminal, Brown said that the L.A. County District Attorney's office is conducting its own criminal investigation into the Bell salaries. He explained that he took the civil suit route to try and get money back to the city of Bell.

Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado signed into law a bill that would refund property owners in Bell nearly $300 million in overcharges that were deemed illegal by the state controller.

Bell City Councilman Luis Artiga announced Tuesday that he supports the recall effort of four council members, including himself.

Artiga said he would only consider resigning if the other three city council members agreed to do so simultaneously.

The recall was launched after residents learned Artiga and the three other council members were being paid nearly $100,000 for their part-time service.

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