How one episode of gross corruption of government officials played out
The example is from the town of Bell, California--a town of 35,000 people, near Los Angeles. It's one of the poorest towns in the state, with a per-capita income of $25,000. Roughly 90% of residents are latino. Unemployment is 16%.
In response to several instances of grossly high salaries some city leaders in the state--including a city adjacent to Bell--had rammed through for themselves, early in 2005 the state legislature passed a law limiting salaries for cities that didn't have a charter.
Months after that law was passed, a measure appeared on the city ballot of Bell to convert the city to a "charter city"--exempting its leaders from the state limitation.
The measure was touted as one that "would give the city more control." (Control of *what* seems not to have been much discussed.)
The measure passed, with 336 votes in favor and 54 against.
Of the 390 ballots, 239 were absentee.
Hmmm...huge percentage of absentee ballots. Where have we seen that before? Wonder what percent of the absentee ballots were "for"? Care to guess?
One resident of Bell, on condition of anonymity, told The LA Times he was given the job of retrieving absentee ballots. "Our objective was to collect absentee ballots, and if they were not filled out, instruct them how to fill it out...[or] fill it out for them", he said. Some residents went to the polling place only to find that someone had already voted under their name.
Result: City manager Robert Rizzo got a 47% pay increase, to $442,000 per year--for a city of 35,000 people. And yes, that means that *before* the increase his city salary was almost $300,000.
For a city of 35,000 people.
Rizzo soon collected a salary of $787,637 per year, with yearly 12% increases scheduled every July, until the year the scandal broke when his salary was $1.5 million per year.
For a city of 35,000 people.
The signature on the contract specifying the huge annual increases seems to have been forged. The city attorney denies that he signed it.
In addition to the outrageous salary, Rizzo also received paid vacation, sick and personal time of 28 weeks off per year.
On April 25, 2011 at least two more illegal retirement accounts were revealed, totalling $4.5 million, to benefit city manager Rizzo, assistant manager Angela Spaccia and a select few council members. Another account was found to be set up to benefit only Rizzo and Spaccia, letting them evade IRS regulations which cap government pensions. Lourdes Garcia, the city's director of administrative services, testified under limited immunity that Rizzo told her in 2008 that his goal was to put $14 million in one or both of these hidden pension funds, which would be paid by the city.
Amazingly--or perhaps predictably--Rizzo remains totally unrepentant, claiming his salary was a reward by the town's citizens for doing such a great job. Of course the citizens didn't agree to the outrageous salary. But much good should it do them, because Rizzo is now free, and living on a taxpayer-funded pension of $100,000 per year.
The city's new website shows that seven more city workers received excessively high salaries, with two making more than $400,000 per year and three making more than $200,000. Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia collected $376,288 a year, with the same 12% annual pay increase as her boss. Bell Police Chief Adams, who oversaw a 46-person department, had an annual salary of $457,000.
Ah, but justice eventually caught up with the lying thieves.
Whereupon they machinegunned her and burned the body.
Yes, on April 16th, 2014, Robert Rizzo was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was ordered to begin serving his sentence on May 30th.
But with the magic touch of all connected pols, Google says HuffPo reported Rizzo has been released. I haven't been able to confirm that (and considering the source I'm skeptical) but if true it would mean Rizzo served a grand total of 19 months.
For stealing around ten million taxpayer dollars.
Point of the story: Rizzo was the top guy in the little town, and he'd bribed virtually all the other town officials--including the council and police chief--with similarly fraudulently inflated salaries, which made everyone unwilling to blow the whistle.
As Lord Acton noted 150 years ago: Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. And people down the organizational chart take their cues from the top guy: If he's corrupt--whether thru graft or simply morally or ethically--everyone else will follow suit, because there's no down-side.