Bell, Calif., Residents Cheer Arrest Of City Leaders
LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
In Los Angeles, eight current and former officials of the small, blue-collar town of Bell are being arraigned on corruption charges this morning. They were arrested yesterday. The scandal broke over the summer, with the revelations that officials received sky-high salaries as part of an alleged scam that cost the town millions of dollars. Here's NPR's Ina Jaffe.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD RECITING PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE)
INA JAFFE: Unidentified crowd: With liberty and justice for all.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
JAFFE: Unidentified Man: Now let's celebrate.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
JAFFE: Lydia Barrios said she could hardly wait to leave work and come down here.
LYDIA BARRIOS: I was telling everybody at work, they got arrested; they got arrested! This is like, fabulous. This is like, fabulous news.
JAFFE: Casas called the arrests just the beginning for Bell residents.
JESUS CASAS: It's the beginning. I don't like to call it a victory, but it's the beginning of a victory.
JAFFE: That's because Bell residents must learn to keep an eye on their city leaders from now on, says Casas. Bell should be a lesson to residents of all cities, he said.
CASAS: They'll need to participate. You need to be aware of your city government, which is a wake-up call, so that other cities and other cases will not repeat again.
JAFFE: L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley said that council members received stipends for attending meetings that never even took place.
STEVE COOLEY: They used the tax dollars collected from the hardworking citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they then looted at will.
JAFFE: In addition to the whopping salaries, Bell officials also received extremely generous benefits packages. And, said Cooley, they allegedly used city coffers for nearly $2 million in personal loans.
COOLEY: This was calculated greed and theft, accomplished by deceit and secrecy.
JAFFE: Bell residents paid a high price, literally, for this alleged corruption. Their property taxes were some of the highest in Southern California, according to the state controller, who says that business license fees were also illegally high. The district attorney put the city's losses from the scandal at $5.5 million. And he said these arrests represent just the first wave of the investigation.
COOLEY: An investigation such as this is very much like peeling away layers of an onion. Each time a piece is pulled away, another piece is uncovered. Filing of charges today is a beginning, but a very good beginning.
JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
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