The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has expanded its probe of the city of Bell, widening the investigation from a scandal over inflated salaries to include allegations of voter fraud and possible conflicts of interest involving city businesses.
Bell City Council members have taken a lot of heat this month after it was revealed that many of them had inflated their salaries to $96,000 a year for part-time elected positions, with one city staff member banking nearly $800,000 a year.L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley — who’s also the Republican nominee for state attorney general — said yesterday that prosecutors have been gathering information on Bell since March, but was mum on the specifics of the voter fraud and conflict of interest allegations. He did describe the investigation as “multifaceted, rapidly expanding and full-fledged,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to a Times source, prosecutors are looking at absentee ballots from the March 2009 City Council elections. That election has already drawn the interest of other investigators — including the FBI and secretary of state — after a former councilman and ex-police sergeant alleged voting irregularities. The ex-councilman charged that the city’s election commissioner had falsified ballots, and the ex-officer said Bell policemen had handed out absentee ballots, told residents who to vote for, and in some cases collected the ballots.
The county D.A.’s probe was initially thought to only be targeting four Bell City Council members who were making close to $100,000 a year, accrued through big stipends the officials received for serving on city commissions. Many of the commissions would reportedly hold meetings for just a few minutes a month, or in tandem with other meetings. Cooley says his office is looking into these claims as well.
Reports of the salary inflation by the Times led to public outcry within the city of Bell, and led to several officials announcing Monday that they’d take a 90% pay cut.
To add to the council’s troubles, State Attorney General (and Democratic gubernatorial nominee) Jerry Brown has also subpoenaed documents from the city going back to 2003, and the state’s top fiscal officer has begun a review of the city’s financial documents.