LOS ANGELES (CN) – Eight current and former Bell city leaders – including the mayor and three sitting councilmembers – were arrested Tuesday morning and accused of misappropriating $5.5 million of city money to pay their own salaries, which officials say are among the highest of elected officials in the country. “This is corruption on steroids,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said at a news conference.
Arrested were Mayor Oscar Hernandez, councilmembers George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo and Luis Artiga, former City Manager Robert Rizzo, former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia and former councilmembers George Cole and Victor Bello.
Rizzo was charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds. His bail was set at $3.2 million.
The allegations of misappropriation are also being investigated by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who sued the city officials last week and demanded the return of what he called excessive salaries.
According to a statement released by Brown’s office, Rizzo was making almost $800,000 a year, while Spaccia was making $336,000 annually. The current councilmembers were paid $96,000 a year in the town of less than 100 residents, according to Brown’s office. Councilmembers in similarly sized towns usually make $4,800 a year.
The Bell city council has raised Rizzo’s salary 16 times since 1993 and raised the salaries of city councilmembers by 16 percent every year since 2003, according to Brown’s office.
“I’m going to continue to do everything in my power to go after corrupt officials who, rather than doing the public’s business, scheme behind closed doors to line their own pockets,” Brown said. “These officials must be forced to give up their ill-gotten gains, and we must enact strict reforms to prevent these kinds of abuses in the future.”