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Brown Expands Bell Probe and Establishes Hotline for Voting Fraud Complaints
LOS ANGELES -- Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. subpoenaed personal financial records of present and former officials involved in the City of Bell salary scandal today and ordered them to appear for depositions to be taken under oath within two weeks.
Brown also announced that his office has set up a toll-free telephone hotline for citizens to report allegations of possible illegal election conduct by Bell 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. “We have seen similar reports 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.
In the case of Bell, it appears as though improper procedures may have been followed by public officials in the very election that allowed the city to give out these outrageous salaries. If so, there may be grounds to seek additional civil or even criminal penalties.
“When city employees of a tiny suburb of L.A. make as much as or nearly double the salary of the President of the United States, things are out of control,” Brown said.
Present or former residents of Bell who had absentee ballots picked up by city officials should call the attorney general’s toll-free hotline, (866) 625-4400. Brown and his staff would also like to hear any information regarding conflicts of interest or self-dealing by Bell officials.
“It’s possible that some people who were victimized by Bell officials may no longer live in Bell, and the only way we have to find these people is for them to call us,” Brown explained.
Earlier today, Brown subpoenaed the testimony of past and present Bell officials and city council members. A team of state lawyers will depose these officials under oath on August 19 and 20. Before then, the officials are required to produce records related to pay and pension benefits, federal and state income tax returns, gifts received by or given to city officials, bank accounts and outside business interests. As part of his expanded investigation, Brown also issued a supplemental subpoena, demanding the release of records involving the city’s former law firm.
Brown’s investigation is aimed at determining whether criminal or civil action should be taken against Bell officials and others. He launched the investigation on July 22 following newspaper reports that Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo was paid $787,637 a year, Police Chief Randy Adams was paid $457,000, and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia was paid $376,288. The three have since resigned.
Four of five Bell city council members received nearly $100,000 a year each, but after vocal citizen protests, they reduced their annual stipends to $8,000.
On July 26, Brown issued subpoenas to the City of Bell for hundreds of employment, salary and contract records. Hundreds of pages of documents have been turned over, and Brown said he expects additional documents to be produced today and even more to be handed over in response to the new subpoenas.
Bell is one of a cluster of working class cities in southeast Los Angeles County with a high proportion of low-income residents. Its population was 36,624 in 2000.
In conjunction with the Bell investigation, Brown is also reviewing whether excessive salaries and pension benefits are being paid by local jurisdictions around the state.