Bell, CA: Ousted City Officials Sue for Sick, Vacation Pay

In a story that makes Tammany Hall look like the League of Women Voters, the tale of the City of Bell, CA sits atop the dung-heap of government corruption and taxpayer theft.

The story, an unprecedented crime sweep of sitting and former politicians and government officials in Southern California, resulted in the arrest of former City Manager Robert Rizzo. Rizzo was charged with 53 felony counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest, with 5.5 million in pilfered cash on the line. Seven other city officials were involved.

At the time of his arrest, while the city was plummeting into insolvency, Rizzo was making over $785,000 a year, almost double what the President of the United States makes, with his deputy, Angela Spaccia, making over $375,000 annually.

These middling city officials, filling what were essentially part-time jobs, were receiving salaries that were among the top in the nation, in the tiny City of Bell (population approximately 38,000) and had awarded themselves pensions and benefits topping 1 million dollars.

Not arrested: former Police Chief Randy Adams, who pulled down a $457,000-a-year salary, 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charley Beck, and city attorney Eric Eggena, one of the highest paid officials in Bell, both of whom are now suing the city for back pay and benefits.

Eggena started as the city prosecutor in the small, working-class city, dealing with misdemeanors and infractions. A year later he added the title director of general services.

While Eggena was in charge of code enforcement, the city collected tens of thousands of dollars from business owners and scavengers cited for violating city laws. Prosecutors allege that Bell officials created official-looking documents and told violators that they had to pay the city. The vast majority of these cases never were filed with the court, as they were supposed to be.

Eggena and Rizzo were involved in a deal in which the city bought a piece of land for more than double its assessed value as part of an unusual redevelopment deal that required the seller to donate $425,000 back to the city — a sum that cannot be accounted for.

Fired shortly after the scandal broke, Eggena is now suing the city for $837,000 including compensation for 329 unused sick and vacation days.

When Eggena went to work for Bell in 2002 he earned $90,000 a year, but his salary nearly tripled over the next eight years, his total compensation swelling to $421,000 annually, putting him in the top tier of city officials nationwide.

In addition to his salary, the city paid the employee portion of Eggena's Medicare and Social Security deductions, and he accumulated double sick and vacation time, according to his contracts.

Along with Eggena, and Adams, Rizzo is also suing the city.

Why Adams and Eggena have not been indicted remains unclear, but here’s hoping that when Rizzo, Spacia and the others do finally stand trial, they won’t be facing a jury of their peers, but righteously angry taxpayers.


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