More than a year before the Bell, California corruption scandal hit the national news in July, three Bell police officers were trying to convince the Los Angeles County district attorney’s investigators to look into a number of illegal practices they observed first-hand while working for the city.
The three officers include James Corcoran, who retired in April, Sgt. Art Jimenez, and one other who has requested anonymity because he is currently involved in the investigation. Corcoran has since filed a whistleblower suit against the city.
After the officers met with the county district attorney’s office March 2009, investigators requested more information, even suggesting confirmation of potential abuses from city officials, some of whom were believed by the officers to be involved in the illegal activities. According to Corcoran, “my thinking was, OK, what am I, chopped liver? Here we are, three cops, asking for help, and they want our allegations substantiated by an elected official? As you know, an elected official is often part of the corruption.”
The district attorney’s office headed by Steve Cooley, a candidate for state attorney general on Nov. 2, didn’t ever get back to the three officers, now claiming that they didn’t feel the matters fell within their jurisdiction. Eventually, Corcoran persuaded newly-elected councilman Victor Bello, to send a letter to the DA’s office letting them know that he had information about a number of crimes including bribery, civil rights violations, election fraud and unethical retirement deals.
Deputy Dist. Attorney David Demerjian responded to Bello in a May 19, 2009 letter that asked him for “more detailed information” and “whatever evidence you have.” The letter said the case would be closed after 30 days if the office did not receive additional material.
Bello responded with allegations that a city official had accepted bribes for issuing a building permit, had confiscated goods from vendors and sold them for his own gain, and falsified election ballots. The letter went on to say that City Administrator Robert Rizzo stopped an investigation of that official, and that “this represents but a fraction of the issues involving Mr. Rizzo and alleged corruption.”
Apparently the county DA’s office still did not feel a full-scale investigation was warranted. Only after the Los Angeles Times published the salaries of City Administrator Robert Rizzo ($787,000), Police Chief Randy Adams ($457,000) and Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia ($376,000) as well as the city council’s salaries, and began their own investigation of widespread fraud and corruption in the city, did the DA’s office begin their efforts to prosecute Bell officials.