First, there was Bell, Calif., the little L.A. suburb that achieved distinction for its florid corruption. Robert Rizzo, former city manager, stands accused of 53 counts of misappropriating public funds and conflicts of interest.
In a town described as the poorest in L.A. county (average income $30,000, unemployment rate 16 percent), Rizzo earned a salary of nearly $800,000 in 2009 and was expecting to rake in $1.5 million this year.
In addition to Rizzo, police arrested and charged the assistant city manager, mayor, and a gaggle of council members. It was, in the words of the district attorney, "corruption on steroids." At least 50 city officials, including Rizzo, reportedly received loans from the city worth $1.6 million. The chief of police resigned after the LA Times reported that he was earning a salary of $457,000.
No sooner were the mug shots of Bell's city fathers dry that news came of Irwindale, Calif., another town of modest means (average income $30,000, poverty rate 16.4 percent) governed by high-rolling executives. Four current and former Irwindale officials, including a council member, have been charged with misuse of public funds.
The accused made a reported five trips to New York City, between 2001 and 2005, purportedly to secure a higher bond rating for Irwindale. But prosecutors allege that "mostly they partied."
The LA Times provides the details. The town had set aside $87 million for an "affordable housing" fund, but "little housing was built or rehabilitated" according to the paper. Officials did dip into the fund, however, for lavish trips to New York. They stayed at the Ritz Carlton for as many as six nights at a time. They dined at the extremely pricey Le Bernadin and River Cafe. They purchased tickets for themselves to Yankees and Mets games and to Broadway shows like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Mamma Mia," and they arranged for chauffeurs to take them from place to place. The final bill for the five trips is estimated at $205,678. Not in Bell's league perhaps, but galling nonetheless.
In addition to Bell and Irwindale, two other Los Angeles suburbs have recently been disgraced by public corruption. The former mayor of Temple City recently pleaded no contest to bribery and other charges and will do 16 months. In Vernon, a tiny town of 100 residents, city managers were making salaries of $1.6 million and enjoying perks like first-class air travel and $800-per-night hotel rooms.