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File photo: (L-R) City of Bell council members Lorenzo Velez, vice mayor Teresa Jacobo, mayor Oscar Hernandez, Councilman George Mirabel and Councilman Luis Artiga listen to residents asking them to resign during a council meeting on July 26, 2010 in Bell, California.
The mayor and ex-city manager of the Los Angeles suburb of Bell were among eight current and former city officials arrested Tuesday in a corruption scandal that authorities said cost the blue-collar city more than $5.5 million in excessive salaries and illegal personal loans.
The district attorney's office said several former and current City Council members were taken into custody along with ex-city manager Robert Rizzo and Mayor Oscar Hernandez.
"This, needless to say, is corruption on steroids," District Attorney Steve Cooley said at a news conference, standing next to a display of pictures of the suspects.
Rizzo, who was making nearly $800,000 a year, was booked on 53 counts of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. He was expected to be arraigned Wednesday, with officials seeking bail of $3.2 million.
Rizzo could face several years in prison if convicted, Cooley said. Messages left at Rizzo's home and with his attorney were not immediately returned.
Others taken into custody were former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, council members George Mirabal and Luis Artiga, and former council members George Cole and Victor Bello.
Requested bail amounts ranged from $377,500 for Spaccia to $130,000 for Cole, based on the amounts each was accused of misappropriating in the city where one in six people live in poverty.
Former Police Chief Randy Adams, who was also scrutinized in the salary scandal, was not arrested.
Cooley, who knew Adams when he was the police chief in Glendale, said Adams was paid $457,000 a year but there was no evidence he obtained that salary illegally.
"Being paid excessive salaries is not a crime," Cooley said. "Illegally obtaining those salaries is a crime."
Prosecutors allege the suspects misappropriated more than $5.5 million.
The complaint said Rizzo made $4.3 million by paying himself through different employment contracts that were not approved by the City Council, and that council members paid themselves a combined $1.25 million for what Cooley called "phantom meetings" of various city boards and agencies.
Rizzo also was accused of giving $1.9 million in loans to himself, Spaccia, Hernandez, Artiga and dozens of others, authorities said.
Cooley said his office had been investigating the officials since March — four months before the public learned they were paying themselves huge salaries to run the city of 40,000 people.
"They used the taxes of the hardworking citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they looted," the district attorney said.
He added that his investigators have pored over more than 60,000 pages of documents and more people could be charged.
Most of the arrests went smoothly, though police briefly used a battering ram at the home of Hernandez before he responded and opened the door. The door was not knocked down.
The suspects were booked into county facilities and will be kept away from other inmates for their protection, sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
The arrests were the latest twist in a scandal that emerged in July with the disclosure that Rizzo was paid almost twice the salary of President Barack Obama.
It also was revealed that Adams was making $150,000 more than the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, and Spaccia was paid $376,288. Four of the five City Council members paid themselves nearly $100,000 a year for their part-time service.
Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia resigned and the council members reduced their salaries to about $8,000 following the disclosures and angry public reaction.
The four council members are currently the target of a recall.
Bell's interim chief administrative officer Pedro Carrillo said the arrests marked a sad day for the city.
"It is clear that Rizzo and Spaccia were at the root of the cancer that has afflicted the city," he said.
Last week, Attorney General Jerry Brown sued eight current and former officials of Bell, accusing them of defrauding taxpayers by granting themselves salaries he said were far higher than warranted for the jobs they were doing.
Artiga was not named in the lawsuit but Adams was.
Earlier this month Bell officials confirmed the city was also the target of a racial profiling investigation by the federal government for allegedly targeting young Hispanic drivers for traffic stops to raise revenue.
Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.