September 22, 2010 in Nation/World

Arrest of 8 in Calif. city pay scandal brings cheers

Officials charged with looting city’s coffers
John Rogers Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo is arrested by police at his Huntington Beach, Calif., home on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES – The mayor and former city manager of Bell were led away in handcuffs Tuesday, charged with six other officials with taking more than $5.5 million from the working-class suburb in a scandal that triggered nationwide outrage and calls for more transparency in government.

Former City Manager Robert Rizzo, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and the other current and former city officials were rounded up during morning raids on their homes that prompted many of their neighbors to burst into cheers.

They were charged with dozens of counts of illegally paying themselves huge salaries in what District Attorney Steve Cooley called a case of “corruption on steroids.”

“They used the tax dollars collected from the hardworking citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they then looted at will,” Cooley told a news conference as he stood next to photos of the eight suspects.

In Bell, where one in six residents lives in poverty, people began honking their horns at the news of the arrests. At City Hall, dozens gathered to laugh and applaud as someone played the Queen song “Another One Bites the Dust.”

“From day one, we’ve been asking, ‘Why aren’t these individuals in jail?’ ” said resident Christina Garcia.

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

He and the others were scheduled to be arraigned today, with officials seeking bail amounts ranging from $3.2 million for Rizzo to $130,000 for former Councilman George Cole. The amounts were based on how much authorities believe each person took.

Others taken into custody were former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, council members George Mirabal and Luis Artiga and former council member Victor Bello.

Spaccia was making $376,288, and four of the five City Council members were paying themselves nearly $100,000 a year.

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