Bell councilman under investigation resigns

Bell Councilman Luis Artiga.
Bell Councilman Luis Artiga.

Bell City Councilman Luis Artiga resigned today in response to allegations that he and his colleagues bilked city taxpayers out of millions of dollars through exorbitant salaries and benefit packages.

"It's in the best interest for the city of Bell that I resign,'' the 49-year-old Artiga told the Los Angeles Times in advance of an afternoon news conference when he was expected to make his resignation official.

Artiga was one of eight current and former Bell city officials arrested last month and accused of receiving lofty salaries and illicit loans of public money. He spent one night in jail before posting $120,000 bail.

Also arrested and charged were former City Manager Robert Rizzo, 56; former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, 52; Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 63; City Council members Teresa Jacobo, 52, and George Mirabal, 60; and former council members George Cole, 60, and Victor Bello, 51.

Most of the officials have posted bail, but Mirabal and Rizzo remain jailed. Rizzo's attorney filed papers today seeking release on $2 million bail. He cannot be released until convincing the court that his bail money comes from legitimate sources. A hearing on his latest effort to post bail is scheduled for Wednesday.

All eight defendants are charged with misappropriation of public funds.

Rizzo also is charged with conflict of interest and falsification of public records by an official custodian.

The current and former council members were charged in nearly two dozen counts of misappropriating about $1.2 million. District Attorney Steve Cooley said Bell City Council members were collecting salaries for "phantom'' meetings that never happened.

A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Artiga and three other council members were earning nearly $100,000 a year.

Spaccia was charged with four felony counts of misappropriation of public funds.

The criminal complaint alleges Rizzo misappropriated more than $1.9 million in public funds by giving unauthorized loans, including $80,000 to himself and more than $300,000 to Spaccia.

Others receiving unauthorized loans included employees of the police department, recreation department, community services, code enforcement and business offices, according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges that Rizzo "did steal, remove, secrete, destroy, mutilate, deface, alter and falsify'' documents involving his September 2008 employment agreements with the city for him to serve as executive director of the city's Public Financing Authority, Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, Community Housing Authority and Surplus Property Authority.

Collectively, the defendants bilked the city's taxpayers out of about $5.5 million, Cooley said.

Residents of Bell have repeatedly called for the council members to step down, but they have refused. A residents' group submitted thousands of petition signatures last week in hopes of forcing a recall election.