(Editor’s note: Former Monterey Park Mayor, Monty Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspectives in high profile legal cases and events.)
In two previous columns following extensive corruption reports on city officials of Bell, California, I opined that the financial shenanigans by city manager Robert Rizzo and some councilmembers were, in fact, downright criminal (though not then so characterized by the LA Times or government investigating agencies) and that criminal indictments would surely follow.
All of the machinations, fake contracts, bookkeeping and paperwork designed to justify and cover up the criminal nature of these actions simply came apart upon completion of investigations by the LA District Attorney, State Controller and Attorney General’s offices and, as I clearly predicted, felony indictments were issued.
Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo and a number of Bell current and former councilmembers and city leaders were arrested, handcuffed and hauled off to jail for misappropriating millions of dollars from Bell’s coffers which they “treated as their personal piggy bank.”
In more simple terms, the official malfeasance amounted to embezzlement - defined as “theft” under California law - by appropriating funds in one’s trust and possession with intent to permanently deprive the owners (the taxpayer) of their funds.
City leaders of Bell, a small working class community of less than 40,000 people (largely immigrants), were among the highest paid municipal officials, with former City Manager Rizzo raking in more than $1.5 million in his yearly salary and benefit package, several times higher than
President Obama’s and those of city officials of the nation’s largest cities.
My further analysis and prognostication is that criminal trials will result in convictions with stiff prison terms and heavy fines imposed.
There are similar problems also brewing in neighboring cities, including Vernon whose former long term mayor had previously been convicted of corruption and voter fraud.
My 12 years of service as mayor and councilman of Monterey Park (1976-88), was a most satisfying experience, despite the long and unpaid extra hours devoted to many city projects (including the planning and construction of our current city hall and civic center) we felt we were doing fine at $200 per month. And, of course, we made out well with free coffee provided by the city during our long extra Saturday sessions and meetings.
We also appreciated the input of citizens who often showed up at our meetings, including the “Tell it to the Mayor” twice monthly program I initiated and conducted during my mayoral terms.
To reiterate a comment from a previous column, a concerned, vigilant and involved citizenry make for a happier, healthier and more successful community, something the residents of Bell discovered a bit late. Our Monterey Park residents certainly should be commended for their active involvement and interest in city affairs.