Opinion: ‘Corruption on steroids’Published 7:24pm Sunday, September 26, 2010
It’s mind-boggling what went down in Bell, Calif., where authorities brought down what appears to be a criminal enterprise masquerading as municipal government.
The police chief avoided arrest, but stepped down after the Los Angles Times reported he earned $457,000.
Otherwise, the perp walk offered a who’s who of past and present administrations in a previously-unheard-of town in southeast Los Angeles County of 36,624, according to the 2000 censusy. The median income is less than $35,000.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, calling the pay scandal “corruption on steroids,” charged eight officials Sept. 21 with misappropriating $5.5 million in public funds.
The former city manager, Robert Rizzo, has been charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest.
Also arrested: Angela Spaccia, former assistant city manager who earned more than $330,000; Mayor Oscar Hernandez; council members George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo and Luis Artiga; and two former council members, George Cole and Victor Bello.
Not only did council members command $100,000 salaries, another $1.2 million was reportedly paid for “phantom meetings” which either never happened or lasted a matter of a minute or two.
Rizzo, whose $787,637 salary sparked the outrage that led to investigation of the city, saw his bail set at $3.2 million.
Officials led Rizzo out of his luxury home in Huntington Beach in handcuffs and into a waiting black SUV.
He also owns a horse ranch in Washington state.
The mayor failed to answer his door, so authorities broke it down with a battering ram and also took Hernandez away in cuffs.
We’d like to think this is an isolated exception to most honest public servants serving their constituents instead of themselves, but who knows how often it occurs?
Cass County commissioners encountered a similar situation in Illinois while screening applicants for administrator.
How did this mindset become woven into the fabric of the community and go undetected until reaching amounts California Attorney General Jerry Brown calls “almost beyond belief?”