Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bell, California Overwhelmingly Voted For Recall Of Corrupt Municipal Officials

Bell, California is the poster child for all that can possibly go wrong with municipal government. It included favoritism on lending, obscene salaries for politicians in a community that is primarily low-income, and various schemes to defraud the citizens of the city. These officials cultivated a culture of corruption that is shocking as to its extent and duration. The more investigators look, the more signs of corruption they find.
Robert Rizzo, the former city manager of Bell, Calif., shocked the nation when it was revealed that his salary in office was $800,000 a year.

Now, the Justice Department has uncovered a document that may help explain, in part, how city leaders financed their lavish salaries. The one-page memo was titled "Bell Police Department Baseball Game."

"All of this was just a means by Rizzo to nickel and dime the community to death to get more money out of them," Christina Garcia, a community activist, said.

The memo assigned "hits" to traffic violations and infractions. Officers could score a "single" by giving out parking tickets. Impounding a car was worth a "triple." Police in Bell charged up to $2,000 for drivers to get their vehicles back -- many times more than any other community in the Los Angeles area.

Bell took in $1 million by impounding cars in 2008.
The US Department of Justice is also investigating the situation in an effort to determine whether the accused officials violated the city citizens' rights.

Voters went to the polls yesterday and emphatically voted to kick these corrupt officials out of office.
More than 95 percent of voters cast ballots Tuesday in favor of recalling council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former Councilman Luis Artiga.

All four have pleaded not guilty to dozens of fraud and other charges. They are accused of looting the city of millions of dollars by doling out enormous salaries to themselves.

In the race to fill Jacobo's remaining term, retired baker Danny Harber won with 54 percent of the vote, according to final election returns.

Attorney Ana Maria Quintana received 44 percent of the vote to fill Artiga's remaining term. Miguel A. Sanchez, who died last week, came in second with 23 percent.

In the race to fill three four-year terms on the council, the top vote-getters were businessman Ali Saleh, followed by Nestor E. Valencia and Violeta Alvarez.

Lorenzo Velez, the only member of the current council who was not charged, sought re-election, but lost. He was paid just $7,500 a year for his part-time service.

Velez was upbeat, however, when he spoke to The Associated Press, saying the big victory was for the community.
These officials treated the city as their personal piggy bank, and the residents suffered for their malfeasance.

The recall isn't without controversy as there are claims that an out-of-town donor with ties to the Tea Party was hoping to skew the results and the police union sent out mailings that might have broken the law.
Mailings from Bell’s police union spurred an assertion by the city attorney that uniformed officers promoted candidates, violating the law. Campaign contributions totaling $60,000 from Gwilym McGrew, a retired executive from Woodland Hills, 33 miles (53 kilometers) northwest of Bell, and his wife, Peggy, prompted a state Assembly member to press for the return of the cash.

“I am shocked to hear that any candidate with strong community ties would accept funds from the very people who work against the working families they are looking to represent,” Ricardo Lara, an Assembly Democrat from neighboring Bell Gardens, said in a statement. Lara, whose district includes Bell, said McGrew supports the Tea Party movement, as well as anti-worker candidates and legislation.

McGrew, who started medical-supply retailer, said in an interview that he has backed causes related to Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barney Frank and went with a candidate he supported to a Tea Party event. He said he helped honest people in Bell who he believes will do a good job.

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