Former Bell Official Faces More Charges | Courthouse News Service
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Former Bell Official Faces More Charges

(CN) - Prosecutors on Thursday filed two new charges against Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, one of eight city officials accused of misappropriating $5.5 million of city money to pay their own salaries. In a related effort to restore transparency and public trust, California Attorney General Jerry Brown sought a court-appointed monitor for Bell's government and subpoenaed testimony from the city of Vernon, whose officials reportedly raked in similarly high salaries.

In response to the Bell corruption scandal, Brown said the court needs to appoint a monitor who can observe and report the city government's actions and "give the citizens of Bell transparency."

"Something is terribly wrong in the City of Bell," Brown wrote in his motion for a court-appointed monitor.

Four of Bell's five city council members made $100,000 a year for their part-time positions, according to Brown's lawsuit last month in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Rizzo allegedly pulled in a base salary of $787,637 a year -- almost twice the annual pay of President Obama.

Rizzo and seven other city officials, including former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, face charges that they arranged exorbitant salaries, benefit packages and personal loans for themselves, and mismanaged bond funds, among other allegations.

Rizzo, 56, faces 53 felony counts of misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and falsification of documents involving $4.4 million.

He faces an additional count each of conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds for his connection to Dennis Tarango, the city's privately contracted planning director and Rizzo's business partner in a horse-racing venture. Tarango's engineering firms have received more than $10.4 million from the city since 1995, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Defendants in Brown's case include former assistant city administrator Angela Spaccia; former police chief Randy Adams; council members Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabel; and former council members Victor Bello and George Cole.

Brown called Bell a "city in crisis" and said the appointment of a monitor would help restore transparency and trust in the city government. "One council member has resigned, leaving just four," Brown noted. "One is still in jail. Two others, recently released from jail following their arrests, called in 'sick' and did not attend the last City Council meeting."

Although there's an interim chief administrative officer and city attorney, Brown said it's "unclear how, if at all, they can be receiving oversight from the council."

Brown also subpoenaed the city of Vernon, seeking testimony about the compensation and retirement benefits given to former officials Eric T. Fresch, Donal O'Callaghan, Roirdan S. Burnett, Jeffrey A. Harrison, Bruce Malkenhorst Jr. and Bruce Malkenhorst Sr.

Brown says Fresch, a former city manager and deputy city attorney, was reportedly paid $1.65 million in 2008; O'Callaghan received $785,000 last year as former city manager and utilities director; Burnett got $570,000 as former treasurer; and Harrison, a former city attorney, pulled in $800,000. Former city clerk Malkenhorst Jr. purportedly got paid $290,000 in 2008, while Malkenhorst Sr., a former city administrator, receives a pension of more than $500,000 a year.

A Los Angeles grand jury indicted O'Callaghan Tuesday on three felony counts of conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds. Malkenhorst Sr. has been charged with embezzling public money.

Bell is a Los Angeles suburb with a population of about 40,000, including a high percentage of poor people. Nearby Vernon, an industrial city, has fewer than 100 residents.

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