Bell Scandal Leads to Arrests


Eight past and present Bell city officials have been arrested in connection with the ongoing investigations into political corruption there.

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The L.A. Times on the first court appearance of the arrested officials:

An attorney for former City Administrator Robert Rizzo disclosed that his client has been in a jail medical facility and that he has been unable to review the array of felony charges with his client. Rizzo is charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds, falsification of documents and conflict of interest.

Two other defendants, Councilman Luis Artiga and former Councilman George Cole, are poised to post bail, their attorneys said. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said it was satisfied that both had met the requirement of proving their bail money is not coming from ill-gotten income.

Another defendant, Teresa Jacobo, also satisfied the DA's requirement but requested a reduction in her $260,000 bail, an indication that she was unable to post that amount.

The other defendants, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Councilman George Mirabal and former Councilman Victor Bello, also requested bail-reduction hearings.

At L.A. Observed, a statement from the interim city manager casting most of the blame on Chief Administrative Officer Rizzo and former assistant CAO Spaccia.

The L.A. Times has a detailed account of all the problems Bell still faces that even arrests and possible convictions of bad politicians won't solve. Such as:

the long-term financial outlook for the city of 39,000 southeast of downtown Los Angeles is murky: The state controller's office has found that Bell collected about $5.6 million in illegally imposed tax increases and business-license fees -- and now must refund an amount equal to more than one-third of its $13.5-million general fund. As city officials work on plans to refund the money, they also must find a way to balance the budget to adjust for the loss of the illegal tax revenue. That could mean cutting jobs or services, or raising revenue through bonds.

The latter option became less viable Tuesday when a Wall Street rating firm cast new doubt on Bell's ability to pay its existing debts, including a $35-million bond repayment due Nov. 1. Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook on $57 million of Bell bonds, citing "financial weakness" and fallout from the salary scandal and illegal property tax hikes. In August, Standard & Poor's downgraded Bell's bonds to junk status.

My colleague at Reason magazine, Tim Cavanaugh, covered two citizen celebrations of the arrests in Bell itself.

While citizens are fighting for a recall and a chance to democratically elect a new city government--until conviction, they are stuck with the lot they have--the L.A. Times calls for a quick appointment via the state government of an independent receiver to run the city, though noting that "The legalities of such a step are unclear." The Times also defends itself from right-wing complaints that the arrest coverage doesn't stress that the Bell officials are Democratic Party members, by pointing out that their specific positions are either unelected or elected in nonpartisan elections.

(Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

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