SAN FRANCISCO — Bell, Calif.’s mayor, former city manager, and current and former City Council members have been arrested on charges of misappropriating more than $5.5 million from city coffers, according to the Los Angeles district attorney.
“We are alleging they used the tax dollars collected from the hard-working citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they looted at will,” district attorney Steve Cooley said in a statement.
The DA’s office said its bureau of investigation arrested former city manager Robert Rizzo, 56, and former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, 52; Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 63; vice mayor Teresa Jacobo, 52; council members George Mirabal, 60, and Luis Artiga, 49; and former council members George Cole, 60, and Victor Bello, 51.
Rizzo, who was paid $800,000 before he resigned in July, is charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. The allegations include that since 2008, Rizzo wrote his own employment contracts that the City Council never approved.
Prosecutors charged Hernandez, Jacobo, Mirabal, Cole, Bello, and Artiga with nearly two dozen counts of misappropriating $1.2 million of public funds.
The district attorney also alleges that city officials were paid for phantom committee meetings and made illegal personal loans.
Rizzo, hired in 1994, allegedly gave nearly $1.9 million in unauthorized loans to himself, Spaccia, Artiga, Hernandez, and dozens of others.
Bail ranges from $3.2 million for Rizzo to $130,000 for Cole.
Bell, a blue-collar community near Los Angeles, has been under scrutiny since the Los Angeles Times revealed in July that Rizzo was making almost $800,000 a year.
Follow-up examinations of Bell’s unusual finances exposed other unusually high salaries and a state controller’s audit determined that the city had levied a higher-than-permitted property tax rate.
The district attorney said records subpoenaed showed council members were illegally paid $8,000 a month, between 2006 and this year, for meetings on four boards that never took place or lasted just a few minutes.
On Monday, Fitch Ratings washed its hands of the troubled city, withdrawing its ratings after issuing a final downgrade to Bell’s already junk-rated debt.
Fitch dropped $50 million of outstanding Bell general obligation bonds to B from BB on Monday, downgraded $7.5 million of Bell Public Financing Authority taxable pension obligation bonds to B-minus from BB-minus, and then withdrew the ratings altogether.