Thursday, October 21, 2010

Investigations Continue Into Malfeasance and Fiscal Shenanigans In Bell, California

The more investigators dig, the more they find. Shenanigans abound from the petty to substantial and it indicates a culture of corruption and entitlement pervaded the city government.
A separate redevelopment account, the Capitol Projects Fund, was also inappropriately charged $242,268 for labor. The former CAO was paid $171,444, the DAS was paid $38,117, and former Assistant CAO Angela Spaccia was paid $27,066 from the fund. Once again, these payments were made without any evidence that any work activity was related to the fund.

Members of the Bell City Council also served on the Redevelopment Agency’s governing board, and were authorized to charge $60 a month for serving on the agency’s board. The Controller’s audit revealed, however, that the members were receiving $55.38 every two weeks, instead of the maximum $60 a month. In addition, two former board members received a stipend of $27.69 every two weeks even though they were no longer members of the board. The audit revealed that the agency’s governing board rarely met, and when Bell City Council members did convene as the agency’s governing board, the majority of those meetings lasted for three minutes or less.

The Redevelopment Agency also was cited for repeatedly failing to comply with the State’s Health and Safety codes. The agency did not correctly adopt an annual budget, compile annual reports, properly set aside housing funds, or prepare five-year implementation plans. The agency also overstated its outstanding debt in financial reports.

A separate audit of the city’s Gas Tax Fund and Traffic Congestion Relief Fund disclosed a number of inappropriate expenditures. An earlier report from the Controller found the city had paid the consulting firm D&J Engineering – which, at the time, was owned by the city’s Director of Planning Services, Dennis Tarango – $10.4 million without a written contract. This audit found the city also inappropriately paid the firm $301,810 from the Gas Tax Fund during the past three years, and without a contract for services.

The Controller found several other unallowable payments made to contractors from the Gas Tax Fund, including:

* $129,600 in overpayments for general maintenance services on public streets
* $76,992 for street sweeping services without a written contract
* $7,806 for painting house numbers on curbs, a benefit to property owners, not the public
* $4,878 in overpayments to an asphalt contractor
All of these inappropriate charges, illegal billings, and costs were borne by taxpayers in Bell, who faced among the highest tax bills in the state despite being among the poorer municipalities per capita. It was part of the systematic fleecing of taxpayers in Bell by city officials and the arrests and indictments are not going to be sufficient. The state has enacted legislation to help Bell residents.

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