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2 California officials in pay scandal post bail

From Sara Weisfeldt, CNN
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Probe leads to city officials' arrest
  • Charges allege that officials misappropriated more than $5.5 million
  • Attorney general's office: A former city manager was paid more than $700,000 a year
  • Bell had 36,624 residents as of the 2000 census, and the median annual income is less than $35,000
  • A defense attorney says the case is about politics

(CNN) -- Two officials involved in a Bell, California, salary scandal that sparked outrage over allegedly excessive pay posted bail Wednesday evening after showing that their bail funds come from legitimate sources.

Meanwhile, arraignment for eight current or former city employees was postponed until October 21 after a defense attorney asked for more time.

Charges allege that officials misappropriated more than $5.5 million, including being paid for phantom meetings, according to District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo posted bond of $260,000, and City Council member Luis Artiga posted bond of $120,000, according to Capt. Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Three current or former Bell city officials accused of misappropriation of public funds won bail reduction Wednesday.

Video: Brown: Bell not only corruption case
  • California
  • Crime

The bail for former City Manager Robert Rizzo was reset from $3.2 million to $2 million; Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia's bail went from $377,000 to $350,000; and Mayor Oscar Hernandez's bail was reduced by $10,000 to $275,000.

Jacobo, Artiga and former council member George Cole showed that their bail funds come from legitimate sources and can post it anytime, a judge ruled.

Rizzo, Spaccia and Police Chief Randy Adams resigned after media reports that they were making several hundred thousand dollars a year. Adams was not charged, Cooley said.

"The complaint alleges [defendants] used the tax dollars collected from the hard-working citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they looted at will," Cooley said.

Other defendants include council member George Mirabal and former councilman Victor Bello.

Rizzo, who was being paid nearly $800,000 annually, is charged with 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. Among the allegations are that he wrote his own employment contracts and that they were never approved by the City Council, prosecutors said.

Rizzo's attorney, Jim Spertus, said Cooley ensured that reporters witnessed the arrest of his client and called it "grossly unprofessional."

"Candidate Cooley wants some good campaign material," Spertus said, making reference to the district attorney's candidacy for California attorney general.

"[Rizzo's] salary was openly transparent to the City Council, and the council approved it," he said, adding that his client will fight the charges.

Prosecutors charged Hernandez, Jacobo, Mirabal, Cole, Bello and Artiga with nearly two dozen counts of misappropriating approximately $1.2 million of public funds. Cooley alleges that they held "bogus meetings" that lasted only minutes at a time -- or not at all -- and collected payment.

"The [council], for their part, provided no checks, no balances," Cooley said. "The council members were busy enriching themselves for collecting money for meetings that never occurred."

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown recently sued several of the former officials "to recover the excess salaries" that Bell officials were being paid. He also was pursuing a reduction of their pension benefits.

The suit accuses officials of fraud, civil conspiracy, waste of public funds and breach of fiduciary duty. It also alleges they deliberately misled citizens about the accurate amount of their pay.

Bell, in southeast Los Angeles County, had 36,624 residents as of the 2000 census. The median annual income is less than $35,000.

Rizzo's last annual base salary was $787,638, Adams earned $457,000, and Spaccia received $336,000, according to Brown's office. Before recently cutting their pay, Bell City Council members received $96,000 a year, compared with $4,800 a year earned by council members in similar-sized cities.

Since 2001, City Council members also awarded themselves 16 percent raises yearly.

Brown, who is running for governor, said Rizzo prepared a memo for the public saying council members received $673 a month and he was paid $15,478 a month, which would amount to annual salaries of about $8,000 and $185,000, respectively.

CNN's Carey Bodenheimer and Phil Gast contributed to this report.