You can’t get any closer to organized crime than this one! A former city manager in a small suburb of Los Angeles has pleaded no contest to dozens of counts of fraud, embezzlement, rigging city elections and a bucket load of other felonies connected with a scandal that has rocked people across Southern California. Five former city council members, a former assistant city manager, and the former mayor of the City of Bell are still awaiting trial. More charges and indictments could still be coming, including possible federal indictments by the U.S. Attorney.
Robert Rizzo was the longtime city manager of Bell, California, a small, lower income community immediately southeast of Los Angeles. His assistant city manager was Angela Spaccia. Over a period of years Rizzo and his “gang of eight” looted the community, putting it millions of dollars into debt and driving it to the brink of bankruptcy. The crimes sound awfully similar to the organized crime scam that looted the treasuries of at least a dozen private homeowners associations in the State of Nevada.
Because of inappropriately high salaries in a number of California communities, the state enacted laws prohibiting city officials from voting themselves massive amounts of income. Rizzo, his assistant city manager, the mayor, and five city councilmen held an almost secret municipal election to get the city officially chartered to avoid the state limits. Despite a population of 38,000 people and just 10,000 registered voters, only 390 votes were cast, a majority of them by absentee ballot. And many of those ballots were forged to reflect that a solid majority were in favor of the proposed charter.
Over a period of several years, Rizzo arranged for himself annual pay hikes that put his salary at nearly eight hundred thousand dollars. That’s twice the salary of the U.S. President! Rizzo’s eventual salary was to be one and a half million a year, almost four times the salary of the President.
But Rizzo obviously thought that wasn’t enough. He began stashing millions of dollars in secret retirement accounts to benefit him and a majority of his buddies on the city council. He was set to begin receiving a pension of more than a million dollars a year, all paid for by low income homeowners, phony city contracts and excessive property taxes. In fact, the salaries and pensions arranged by Rizzo and approved by the Mayor and city council made Bell the second highest taxing district in all of Los Angeles and its surroundings. Tax rates were even higher than those in affluent Beverly Hills. When at least one homeowner complained about excessive salaries for Rizzo and the city councilmen, Rizzo and his assistant city manager, forged documents to show he was only earning 180,000 a year and his councilmen around 2400 a year.
In the months to come, we should be hearing a lot more about outrageous siphoning of taxpayers’ money by officials in communities across California. There are reportedly at least a half dozen investigations going on and the FBI is deeply involved in even more.