Updated after the jump with arraignment time tomorrow plus more community reaction, including quotes from Bell activist Cristina Garcia. Originally posted at 9:50 a.m:
By J. Patrick Coolican and Dennis Romero
In what may be an unprecedented crime sweep of sitting and former politicians and government officials in Southern California, the arrests of eight Bell officials were announced by District Attorney Steve Cooley Tuesday morning, setting off jubilation, shock — and possibly fear among California pols.
The surprise arrests followed a grand jury investigation of the city's salary scandal in which officials were paid exorbitantly, including a reported $1.5 million for the alleged kingpin of the scheme, former city manager Robert Rizzo.
Cooley spoke of “calculated greed and theft” by the suspects, who he accused of bleeding city coffers of $5.5 million, including pay for “phantom committee meetings” and “illegal personal loans.”
Police chief Randy Adams earned more than $450,000 and Rizzo's deputy more than $370,000 before they all resigned in disgrace in July. Part-time council members of the tiny city made nearly $100,000 until they voted to reduce them last month.
More outrages were reported this morning: news that Rizzo borrowed money from the city, and then the city paid back his loan.
According to law enforcement officials and some eyewitnesses, Rizzo was arrested along with former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, City Council members Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, and former City Council members George Cole and Victor Bello.
Some were seen by neighbors being handcuffed and led away, faces averted.
One juicy moment that is bound to be delightedly repeated by Bell residents: Hernandez allegedly didn't come to the door quickly enough and a battering ram was used on his home in order to arrest him, officials said at Tuesday's conference.
Not arrested: Bell City councilman Lorenzo Velez, who has been making a normal part-time salary of $673 a month, and former police chief Adams, who pulled down a $457,000-a-year salary and was acquainted with the District Attorney.
Cooley was asked about his relationship with Adams. He confirmed he was acquainted with the cop, but said “I would charge my mother” if justice would be served.
Councilman Velez was named by CNN one of the most intriguing Americans because he was seemingly just doing his job while several of his fellow part-time Bell council-members helped sucked the city coffers dry with salaries in excess of $100,000.
Rizzo took the brunt of the charges — 53 felony counts of misappropriation of public
funds and conflict of interest, with about $4.3 million in pilfered cash on the line, according to Cooley.
The council members charged caught nearly two dozen counts of misappropriating about $1.2 million in public funds, Cooley said. They collected cash for attending meetings that never happened, he said.
In reaction to the scandal and Tuesday's arrests the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called on the Attorney General to have a receiver to take over the day-to-day management of Bell and its finances.
Bell resident Mario Rivas told the Weekly that the arrests constituted a “first step,” but that the lack of allegations against Adams was “troubling.” He expressed hope that a separate federal investigation into the salary scandal would bring accusations against more city officials.
California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado told Fox Business News that other cities in the state should heed the lesson of Bell: “For any city council across America, you should watch Bell California because you're going to go to jail if you are doing this.”
Interim city manager Pedro Carrillo released a statement Tuesday morning that said the arrests prove that Rizzo and assistant city manager Angela Spaccia were behind the bell salary scandal:
“Given the sheer volume of charges levied against former Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo and former Assistant CAO Angela Spaccia by the District Attorney, it is clear that Rizzo and Spaccia were at the root of the cancer that has afflicted the City of Bell,” he said.
Cooley blamed an “uninvolved electorate” and a shrinking news media for allowing Bell's alleged corruption to fester.
Cristina Garcia, leader of the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse (BASTA), said “that's an unfair representation of the community. You had a number of members of the community involved and asking for help from the D.A. himself int he last few years.”
Bell residents otherwise seemed pleased with Cooley's actions.
“Today is historic,” said Margarita Limon, who has lived in the city for 31 years. “These guys are the most-terrible people they're like rats taking our money and destroyoing our city.”
“We're very appreciative,” 45-year-old Bell resident Nestor Valencia told the Weekly, “but this was a long time coming.”
Arraignment for the eight Bell officials was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. downtown. Garcia of BASTA said this is only the beginning:
“It reminds us that our job is not done. Not until they're convicted of a crime do they have to step down from their positions.”
BASTA's recall campaign against the four accused council members, she said, would continue.
-With reporting from Steve La.
Here's our August piece on the Bell salary scandal.
And our piece on how Rizzo was pushing cops to tow and impound cars to help pay his own salary, almost certainly violating people's civil rights.
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