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Ex-Bell city manager among 8 arrested in Calif. corruption case

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LOS ANGELES — The mayor and ex-city manager of the Los Angeles suburb of Bell were among eight current and former city officials arrested Tuesday in a corruption scandal that authorities said cost the city more than $5 million in excessive salaries and illegal personal loans.

The district attorney’s office said several former and current City Council members were taken into custody along with ex-city manager Robert Rizzo and Mayor Oscar Hernandez.

"This, needless to say, is corruption on steroids," District Attorney Steve Cooley said at a news conference, standing next to a display of pictures of the suspects.

The district attorney, state attorney general and others have been investigating officials in the small working-class city since it was disclosed this summer that they were paying themselves huge salaries.

Rizzo, who was making nearly $800,000 a year, was booked on 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest.

The investigations involve allegations of corruption, misuse of public funds and voter fraud in the city where one in six of the 40,000 residents live in poverty.

A message left at Rizzo’s Huntington Beach home was not immediately returned.

Others arrested were former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, council members George Mirabal and Luis Artiga, and former council members George Cole and Victor Bello.

Former Police Chief Randy Adams, who was also scrutinized in the salary scandal, was not taken into custody.

Cooley, who knew Adams when he was the police chief in Glendale, said there was no evidence he committed any crimes.

"Being paid excessive salaries is not a crime," Cooley said. "Illegally obtaining those salaries is a crime."

Prosecutors allege the suspects misappropriated more than $5.5 million, including making illegal personal loans.

The complaint also said Rizzo made $4.3 million by paying himself through different employment contracts that were not approved by the City Council, and that council members paid themselves a combined $1.25 million for what Cooley called "phantom meetings" of various city boards and agencies.

Rizzo also was accused of giving $1.9 million in loans to himself, Spaccia, Hernandez, Artiga and dozens of others, authorities said.

Most of the arrests went smoothly, though police used a battering ram at the home of Hernandez before he opened the door.

The suspects were booked into county facilities and will be kept away from other inmates for their protection, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

The arrests were the latest twist in a scandal that emerged in July with the disclosure that Rizzo was paid almost twice the salary of President Barack Obama.

It also was revealed that Adams was making $457,000 a year, and Spaccia was paid $376,288. Four of the five City Council members paid themselves nearly $100,000 a year for their part-time service.

Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia resigned and the council members reduced their salaries to about $8,000 following the disclosures and angry public reaction.

The four council members are currently the target of a recall.

Last week, Attorney General Jerry Brown sued eight current and former officials of Bell, accusing them of defrauding taxpayers by granting themselves salaries he said were far higher than warranted for the jobs they were doing.

Cooley said the investigation was not over and more charges could be filed.

"They used the taxes of the hardworking citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they looted," he said.


Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.

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