U.S. News

Bell City Officials Arrested Over Public Funds Misuse

Jane Wells|Reporter

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley announced on Tuesday the arrest of eight current or former Bell city officials, including former city manager Robert Rizzo, over alleged misuse of the city's public funds.

gavel and money

Also arrested were six city council members and one other official.

Cooley says together the group misappropriated $5.5 million in public funds, which they used "as their own piggy bank which they then looted at will."

Rizzo was described as the city's "unaccountable czar," who allegedly secretly set his own salary and then increased it through a series of actions "no one approved of", and few knew about.

Not charged is the former police chief, who resigned over outcry that his salary topped $500,000.

"He was not charged because there was apparently no evidence to charge against him," says Cooley. When reporters questioned him further, the D.A., who says he knows the former chief, responded, "Being paid excessive salaries is not a crime. It's not a crime. Illegally obtaining those salaries is a crime. "

Cooley says that Rizzo is responsible for $4.3 million of the city's losses, while council members paid themselves $1.2 million "for phantom meetings".

All eight have been booked and will be arraigned in court on Wednesday.

Cooley is requesting bail for Rizzo at $3.2 million, and is asking the court to make sure the source of any bond is examined before a defendant is allowed to post bail. He says all of the officials responded without incident, though, in the arrest of Bell's mayor, Oscar Hernandez, where a battering ram was necessary to break down the front door.