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Attorney general expands probe of California city officials

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • State attorney general expands probe of California town officials
  • Bell, California officials reduced high salaries after citizen protests
  • Several officials resigned over the controversy

(CNN) -- California's attorney general on Monday ordered city of Bell officials past and present to turn over financial records and give depositions under oath in coming weeks on high salaries that prompted public protests and resignations.

Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., who is running for governor, issued a statement saying that he also is looking into irregularities involving absentee election ballots by some city officials.

"My office has received several reports from residents of Bell indicating that city officials encouraged them to fill out absentee ballots and then collected the ballots," Brown said, noting similar allegations had been published in the Los Angeles Times. "If these allegations are true, this could be a serious violation of state law."

California law requires that absentee ballots must be mailed or brought to a polling place by the voter unless the voter is disabled or ill, said the statement by Brown.

It said any past or present resident of Bell who had absentee ballots picked up by city officials could call a toll-free hotline to report what happened.

Brown also announced that he subpoenaed the testimony of Bell officials and city council members, and ordered them to produce records related to their pay, pension benefits, tax returns, gifts, bank accounts and outside interests.

His statement said state lawyers will obtain depositions from the officials under oath on August 19 and 20.

Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia resigned last month after media reports that they were earning salaries of several hundred thousand dollars each. In addition, four Bell City Council members who were making almost $100,000 a year drastically reduced their pay after protests by citizens outraged by the high salaries.

Bell, a working class city in southeast Los Angeles County, had a population of 36,624 in 2000, according to Brown's statement.

The Bell salaries provoked statewide anger at a time when California is grappling with a near $20 billion budget deficit. The median annual income of Bell -- a working-class city in southeast Los Angeles County that counted 36,624 residents in the 2000 census -- is less than $35,000.