February 09, 2011

Two Bell, California, Officials Decline Plea Deals, County Prosecutor Says

Two of the eight former and current Bell, California, officials facing accusations of misappropriating public funds rejected plea deals they were offered after contacting the Los Angeles County District Attorney, a prosecutor said.

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Snyder, in a phone interview yesterday, declined to identify the two defendants and to disclose the terms of the plea bargains they were offered. She said it wasn’t uncommon for defendants to approach prosecutors to inquire about a possible deal.

The Los Angeles Times, citing George Mgdesyan, a lawyer for one of the defendants, reported yesterday that plea agreements calling for two-year prison terms were offered to six of the officials. Mgdesyan didn’t immediately return a call from Bloomberg News yesterday.

The eight current and former officials were arrested Sept. 21 in an investigation of high salaries that the leaders of the Los Angeles suburb are accused of having paid themselves. Former City Manager Robert Rizzo was charged with a total of 53 counts of misappropriating public funds and conflict of interest.

Rizzo, who was paid about $800,000 a year, was accused of writing his own employment contracts, which were never approved by the city council. He wasn’t one of the defendants offered a plea deal, the L.A. Times said. The eight suspects, including the city’s mayor, misappropriated $5.5 million, prosecutors said in September.

Poverty Line

A city of 38,000 where almost one in six residents lives below the poverty line, Bell made national headlines in July when the Times disclosed Rizzo’s salary.

An audit by the state’s controller found that the city illegally raised taxes, mismanaged bond funds and entered into improper contracts and land purchases. In addition to the criminal charges, Rizzo and seven others face a civil lawsuit filed by the state attorney general’s office Sept. 15.

The criminal case is People v. Rizzo, BA376026, Los Angeles County Superior Court.

By Edvard Pettersson - Feb 7, 2011 11:01 PM CT

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net.

http://www.bloomberg.com/

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