LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former top officials in Bell, Calif., gave themselves six-figure salaries and “took great pains to conceal” their exorbitant pay and benefits from taxpayers, California Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr. claims in Superior Court.
“The excessive and wasteful compensation given to the defendants was paid out of public funds, and thus the City and its citizens ultimately footed the bill left by the defendants’ self-enriching activities,” Brown claims.
Top officials in the small Los Angeles suburb made national headlines for their six-figure salaries. Four of Bell’s five city council members made $100,000 a year for their part-time positions.
With about 40,000 residents, Bell is one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County.
Brown wants to recover the bloated salaries and cut the pensions of eight current and former Bell officials.
Robert A. Rizzo, Bell’s former chief administrative officer, pulled in a base salary of $787,637 a year – almost twice the annual pay of President Obama. The city council allegedly raised his salary 16 times, by an average of 14 percent a year, even though his job stayed the same. Brown claims Rizzo’s salary increased “over ten-fold” between 1993 and 2010.
Rizzo also received double the retirement benefits from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), and got 107 vacation days and 36 days of sick leave per year.
Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made more than $336,000 in 2010 and got the same amount of vacation and sick days as Rizzo, according to Brown.
“In 2009 alone, Rizzo cashed out over 1,100 hours of vacation and sick leave for over $360,000, bringing his total salary from the City to over $1,100,000,” Brown claims.
Likewise, Spaccia made more than $540,000 in 2010 by cashing out her sick leave and vacation days at a rate of $147 per hour.
Bell paid former Police Chief Randy Adams more than $457,000 a year — about 50 percent more than what Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck makes, and more than double the salary of New York City’s police commissioner.
Brown claims Rizzo hired Adams “even though he believed that Adams was not able to fully perform his law enforcement duties as police chief because of purported pre-existing injuries.”
Rizzo allegedly promised Adams lifetime health insurance benefits and medical disability retirement, in addition to his regular retirement.
Rizzo, Spaccia and Adams all resigned amid the public outcry over their salaries.
The attorney general said he’s expanding his statewide probe of public salaries and benefits, and called on lawmakers to reform salary and pension practices.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Brown’s lawsuit alleges fraud, negligence, waste of public funds, conflict of interest and violation of public trust.
Defendants are the city of Bell, Rizzo, Spaccia, Adams, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, and city council members Teresa Jacobo, George Cole, Victor Bello and George Mirabel.