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Posted: 8:10 p.m. Monday, July 22, 2013 - Updated: 7:34 p.m. Sunday, July 28, 2013
Corrupt Pension Plans!
VERNON, Calif. — A disgraced former municipal official who once claimed California's largest public pension isn't giving it up without a fight. Bruce Malkenhorst is a former administrator of the tiny city of Vernon near Los Angeles. After he retired in 2005 he was receiving an annual pension of about $500,000. Malkenhorst later pleaded guilty to misappropriating public funds and the state cut his pension to $115,000.
The media reported Monday that the 78-year-old Malkenhorst is suing Vernon to make up the difference. His lawyers say the city is responsible for keeping his retirement benefits at the higher level, even if the state balks. Malkenhorst earlier filed two lawsuits to prevent his state pension from being reduced. He lost both, but is appealing.
A California Public Employees Retirement System audit last year found Vernon officials improperly boosted the pensions of nearly two dozen top employees. The reports of exorbitant compensation are similar to those that led to the resignation of the city manager and other officials in the nearby city of Bell, which became a poster child for municipal corruption when it was discovered its municipal leaders looted millions of dollars from its treasury.
Former City Manager Robert Rizzo was poised to receive a pension of about $650,000 before the state slashed it to $50,000 after Rizzo and other officials were accused of corruption. Rizzo faces trial later this year with his former assistant.
A jury convicted five of the former Bell council members in March of misappropriating public funds by creating an authority that met only once, did no work and existed only to pay them. One former councilman, who was not in office when the agency was created, was acquitted.
Three Year Delay!
January 10, 2011
"I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did[.] This criminalization of politics is very dangerous. It's dangerous to our system. Just because somebody disagrees with you they got to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family[.]"
Tom DeLay in a 10-minute speech to Senior Judge Pat Priest before his sentence of three years for money laundering and conspiracy to money launder.
(Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay leaves the Travis Co. Jail after posting an appeals bond in Austin, Texas on Monday, Jan. 10, 2011. DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002.) Read more » AUSTIN, Texas -- Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, once considered among the nation's most powerful and feared lawmakers, was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for a scheme to influence elections that already cost him his job, leadership post and millions of dollars in legal fees. The sentence comes after a jury in November convicted DeLay, a Houston-area Republican, on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for using a political action committee to illegally send corporate donations to Texas House candidates in 2002. Prosecutors said DeLay will likely be free for months or even years as his appeal makes it through the Texas court system.
Before being sentenced, DeLay repeated his longstanding claims that he did nothing wrong, the prosecution was politically motivated and that he never intended to break the law. DeLay was convicted in Travis County, one of the most Democratic counties in Texas, which is one of the most Republican states in the country.
"I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did," DeLay said in a 10-minute speech to the judge. DeLay told Senior Judge Pat Priest the "selective prosecution" he's gone through has deeply affected his wife's health, forced him to raise and spend $10 million in legal fees and cost him everything he has worked for - including the second-highest post in the U.S. House. "This criminalization of politics is very dangerous. It's dangerous to our system. Just because somebody disagrees with you they got to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family," he said.
Priest sentenced him to the three-year term on the conspiracy charge. He also sentenced him to five years in prison on the money laundering charge but allowed DeLay to serve 10 years of probation instead of more prison time. "I do not agree that the Travis County District Attorney's Office has picked on Tom DeLay to persecute," Priest said.
DeLay was briefly taken into custody, but Priest granted a request from his attorneys that he be released on a $10,000 bond pending appeal. About three hours after he was sentenced, DeLay posted bond and walked out of the county jail without talking to reporters. DeLay's attorney said he expected the conviction would be overturned. "If I told you what I thought, I'd get sued," his attorney said. "This will not stand." The former congressman had faced up to life in prison. His attorneys asked for probation.
"What we feel is that justice was served," lead prosecutor Gary Cobb said. During his closing argument, Cobb told Priest that if DeLay received only probation, the ex-lawmaker would use such a sentence to make himself a martyr for his political beliefs and that he would "wear probation like Jesus on the cross." "He put his principles, ideals and beliefs above the laws of Texas," Cobb said.
Priest issued his ruling after a brief sentencing hearing on Monday in which former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert testified on DeLay's behalf. Prosecutors attempted to present only one witness at the hearing, Peter Cloeren, a Southeast Texas businessman who claimed DeLay had urged him in 1996 to evade campaign finance laws in a separate case. Prosecutors said the case was similar to the one DeLay was being sentenced for. But not long after Cloeren began testifying, Senior Judge Pat Priest declined to hear the testimony, saying prosecutors couldn't prove the businessman's claims beyond a reasonable doubt. DeLay's attorneys objected to the testimony, saying the former lawmaker was not criminally charged in the case. Cloeren pleaded guilty to directing illegal corporate money into the 1996 congressional campaign of an East Texas candidate.
DeLay's attorneys had indicated they would have up to nine witnesses but decided to present only Hastert. Hastert, an Illinois Republican who was House speaker from 1999 to 2006, testified that DeLay was not motivated by power but for a need to help others. Hastert talked about DeLay's conservative and religious values, his efforts to provide tax relief for his constituents in Texas, his work helping foster children and the help he provided to the family of one of the police officers who was killed in a 1998 shooting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. "That's the real Tom DeLay that a lot of people never got to see," Hastert said.
DeLay's lawyers had also submitted more than 30 character and support letters from friends and political leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and eight current U.S. congressmen. Most of the letters ask for leniency in the sentencing.
After a month-long trial in November, a jury determined that he conspired with two associates to use his Texas-based political action committee to send $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee. The RNC then sent the same amount to seven Texas House candidates. Under Texas law, corporate money can't go directly to political campaigns.
Prosecutors claim the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House. That enabled the Republican majority to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004, strengthening DeLay's political power.
DeLay contended the charges were politically motivated and the money swap in question was legal. DeGuerin says DeLay committed no crime and believes the convictions will be overturned on appeal.
November 22, 2010
Texas - Closing arguments concluded Monday in the money-laundering trial of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and the case has gone to a Travis County jury. Lawyers for the former majority leader told jurors the charges against DeLay were politically motivated, brought because Democrats were unhappy with congressional redistricting he pushed through in 2003, media sources reported.
Lead prosecutor Gary Cobb countered by naming Democrats that have been tried on corruption charges. "Even those who govern must be governed and follow the law," Cobb said. The ex-congressman, once dubbed "The Hammer" for his hard-hitting political style, was indicted in 2005 on charges of violating campaign finance laws that ban corporate contributions to state political campaigns, as well as conspiracy.
Media sources said prosecutors played tapes of an interview DeLay gave to investigators in 2005, in which he admitted knowing about a $190,000 corporate money swap between his Texas political committee and the Republican National Committee. DeLay has maintained his innocence on all charges. DeLay's two co-defendants face lesser charges, and their cases will be tried separately. Prosecutors have said they'll press charges of election code violations against John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.
If convicted of the money-laundering charge, DeLay could face 5 to 99 years, or life, in prison, according to media sources. Earlier this year, the Justice Department ended its six-year criminal investigation of ties between DeLay and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff without filing any charges against the former congressman.
October 22, 2010
Patrice Tierney admitted to four counts of aiding and abetting the filing of false tax returns related to her brother, Robert Eremian, media sources reported. "I take full responsibility for what my part in this was," Patrice Tierney told the court. She was released on her own recognizance and will be sentenced Jan. 13, 2011.
She was accused of managing a bank account for Eremian that took in more than $7 million in illegal gambling profits. Eremian and another brother, Daniel Eremian, were recently charged with racketeering, money laundering, operating an illegal gambling business, filing false tax returns, and other charges, according to media sources. After the hearing, John Tierney refused to take questions. "Today's not about me. I'm here in support of my wife," he said.
The Democratic congressman is seeking his eighth term. His Republican opponent, Bill Hudak, called on Tierney to disclose what he knew about his wife's financial dealings.
October 19, 2010
San Gabriel Mayor Albert Y. M. Huang (pictured above, center) who was arrested Friday after an early morning altercation with a woman outside a restaurant, has resigned from his post as well as the San Gabriel City Council. In an emotional news conference at his lawyer's office in Rosemead, Huang, 35, spoke in English and Chinese to a throng of press. "The unwanted media attention from this private occurrence has greatly affected my family," he said. "It's a tough decision we, as elected officials, have to make."
Huang, who is separated from his wife, Maryann Chen, did not mention the imbroglio with an unidentified woman that started at New Taste Dumpling House in San Gabriel and ended with him arrested on suspicion of felony robbery and assault. He has not been formally charged.
Huang and the woman reportedly started arguing after arriving at the restaurant around 1 a.m. The argument escalated into a food fight when she threw a steamer of dumplings at him and he threw vinegar at her. Huang took the woman's purse and, according to police, tried to leave in the woman's SUV. They scuffled at the car and Huang got out of her car and into his. She tried to prevent him from driving off by standing on the running board of Huang's SUV and hanging on as he drove away, reaching a speed of 45 miles per hour before a security guard from a local business could stop him.
Huang said he made his decision after seeing a picture of his 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Madison, posted on the Internet with a story about him. "So I decided for my family and my child I will sacrifice anything to protect them," he said in Chinese. Huang's face contorted with anguish and he choked back tears when his late mentor's wife, Betty Mui, commended him at the news conference. Mui's husband, Chi Mui, was the city's first Asian mayor. Huang was tapped to replace him in 2006 and then won reelection on his own in 2007. (The City Council members rotate in the mayoral post.)
"I know Albert," said Betty Mui as her own voice choked with emotion and she stopped to compose herself. "Albert did a lot to accomplish what Chi left behind. This is a great loss to the community. But it's just as good that he can now focus on his family." His lawyer said his client planned to fight any charges: "He wants to prove his innocence."
October 15, 2010
The mayor of the city of San Gabriel was in custody Friday on charges of felony robbery and assault after he allegedly took a woman's purse and sped down a residential street with her clinging to the side of his sport-utility vehicle. Mayor Albert Y.M. Huang was being held at the San Gabriel police station, said Lt. Ariel Duran of the San Gabriel Police Department.
Police said they received a call about 1:15 a.m. Friday about a heated argument between Huang and a woman. Investigators determined Huang was arguing over money with the woman outside a restaurant in the 300 block of West Valley Boulevard.
Huang allegedly took the woman's purse, which contained her car keys, cash and personal belongings and got into her car, Duran said. The woman attempted to prevent him from leaving by reaching through the vehicle's window. Huang then allegedly pushed the woman, got out of her car and entered his own, a Nissan SUV.
The woman then reached through the passenger window of Huang's SUV and stood on its running boards, Duran said. Huang accelerated as fast as 45 mph down Prospect Avenue with the woman hanging on, Duran said. "It's a 25 mph speed limit zone, and he's doing 45 with the female hanging on the car," Duran said. Huang drove more than a quarter mile with the woman on his car, Duran said.
A security guard at a local business saw what was going on and detained Huang and the woman until officers arrived. Officers arrested Huang, 35, on suspicion of felony robbery, suspicion of assault by means likely to produce great injury, also a felony, and battery. Duran said there was no indication Huang was intoxicated at the time of the incident, and he has not been charged with DUI. His bail was set at $100,000.
The woman was not seriously injured, Duran said, and her belongings were recovered. She is 33 years old. Her name has not been released, and Duran said it was unclear what her relationship was to Huang.
October 7, 2010
The Lone Ranger ... Caught!
LOS ANGELES, CA — The former chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians pleaded guilty this afternoon to federal charges related to his acceptance of approximately $875,000 in bribes from tribal vendors and concealing that income from the Internal Revenue Service.
Robert Salgado Sr., 68, pleaded guilty to two felony charges – bribery and subscribing to a false tax return. Salgado pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson, who earlier in the day heard a prosecutor’s opening statement on the first day of a trial for Salgado.
In a plea agreement filed today, Salgado admits that he accepted a total of $874,995 in bribe payments from five vendors who did business with the Soboba Band. The payments to Salgado, which were made by vendors hoping to obtain or being allowed to keep contracts with the tribe, were given to Salgado in the form of cash, payments made to his creditors and checks payable to an entity controlled by Salgado.
In the plea agreement, Salgado specifically admits:
• receiving $486,152 from a vendor involved in the tribe’s $12.5 million purchase of a golf course now called The Country Club at Soboba Springs and other real estate purchases;
• taking approximately $184,000 in bribes from a second vendor who was awarded food concession and other contracts at the Soboba Casino;
• accepting bribes totaling $89,000 from a vendor who received a series of construction contracts from the Soboba Bank;
• taking $65,843 in bribes, plus “substantial cash payments which cannot be quantified,” from another vendor who received a series of construction contracts; and
• accepting a total of $50,000 in bribes from Abbas Shilleh, the owner of California Parking Services, Inc., which provides valet parking at the Soboba Casino.
Salgado also pleaded guilty to a tax offense, admitting that he filed a 2001 tax return that claimed he and his wife earned $146,114, but in reality earned “substantially in excess of that amount.” In the plea agreement, Salgado admits he “also did not report his income accurately” for tax years 2002 through 2006, and that he owes the IRS a total of $226,187 in back taxes.
Judge Pregerson is scheduled to sentence Salgado on February 7, 2011. As a result of today’s guilty pleas, Salgado faces a statutory maximum sentence of 13 years in federal prison. The plea agreement contemplates a sentence of 87 months to 108 months in prison, but the actual sentence will be determined by Judge Pregerson.
Shilleh, 47, of Diamond Bar, was indicted along with Salgado last year. Shilleh, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, is scheduled to go on trial before Judge Pregerson on February 1, 2011.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS - Criminal Investigation.
October 7, 2010
Former New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi (pictured left, white hair) pleaded guilty on Thursday to steering millions of dollars in state pension money to an investment firm in return for kickbacks that included travel and other expenses, and campaign funds. Mr. Hevesi, a Democrat, has been a subject of a lengthy investigation focusing on allegations that his friends, family and associates sold access to the state’s $125 billion pension fund, one of the world’s largest, to reward allies, pay back political favors and reap millions of dollars for themselves.
“I deeply regret my conduct and I sincerely and deeply apologize to the people of the state of New York, to the court, to my family,” Mr. Hevesi told those in the courtroom.
Two investigators brought the former comptroller into State Supreme Court in Manhattan at 8:15 a.m. with his hands cuffed in front of him beneath a draped trench coat. Once in the lobby, he had his hands uncuffed before being taken to the fifth floor for the first of two arraignments, which took place in Criminal Court.
Mr. Hevesi, wearing a black suit, a white shirt, stripped tie and round, wire-rimmed glasses, seemed upbeat during a brief delay, joking with his grown children who sat behind him on benches in the small courtroom.
He was silent as the judge read the charge: a single “E” felony count of receiving award for official misconduct in the second degree.
Then, in a second courtroom, he entered his plea before Justice Lewis Bart Stone, reading in calm tones a lengthy description of his crime: how he steered $250 million in pension funds to Markstone Capital Partners between January 2003 and September 2005 in exchange for $75, 000 travel expenses for him and his family; $380,000 in other expenses; and $500,000 in campaign contributions. The travel, he said, included trips to Israel and Italy.
Mr. Hevesi also admitted for the first time that during his tenure, Hank Morris, his longtime political consultant, acted as a paid middle man between the pension fund and investment firms, and steered pension investments to "friends and political associates." Mr. Morris has said he did nothing improper.
Mr. Hevesi’s plea makes him the highest-ranking state official convicted in the case. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to a separate felony after admitting that he had used state workers to chauffeur his ailing wife, but he avoided jail time in that case after he agreed to resign. He faces up to four years in prison.
The pension investigation, conducted by the office of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, is one of the longest running in Albany. It came to symbolize the ethically troubled culture of the capital.
Mr. Hevesi is expected to cooperate in the investigation, those with knowledge of the case said.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three men, including two former officers with the Police of Puerto Rico, were convicted today by a federal jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for their roles in providing security for drug transactions, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodriguez-Velez of the District of Puerto Rico, and Special Agent in Charge Joseph S. Campbell of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office.
Former Police of Puerto Rico Officers Daviel Salinas Acevedo, 29, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and Miguel Santiago Cordero, 30, of Lares, Puerto Rico, were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug transaction.
Wendell Rivera Ruperto, 38, of Las Marias, Puerto Rico, was convicted of one count each of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, attempting to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug transaction. Rivera Ruperto had been convicted previously of 15 other counts arising from his participation in other, related drug transactions.
Salinas Acevedo, Santiago Cordero and Rivera Ruperto were charged in a superseding indictment returned in the District of Puerto Rico on Sept. 30, 2010, in addition to 87 other law enforcement officers and 43 other individuals, as part of the FBI undercover operation known as “Operation Guard Shack.” To date, 131defendants have pleaded guilty or been convicted, and 119 defendants have been sentenced. Today’s convictions were the last of the Guard Shack defendants to stand trial.
According to the evidence presented in court, Salinas Acevedo, Rivera Ruperto and Santiago Cordero each provided security for what they believed were illegal cocaine deals that occurred on March 24, April 9 and July 8, 2010, respectively. In fact, each purported drug transaction was one of dozens of simulated transactions conducted as part of the undercover FBI operation. The three men performed armed security for the multi-kilogram cocaine deals by frisking the buyer (a confidential informant working for the FBI), standing guard as the kilos were counted, and inspecting and escorting the buyer in and out of the transaction. In return for the security they provided, Salinas Acevedo, Santiago Cordero and Rivera Ruperto each received a cash payment of $2,000.
In return for the security they provided, Salinas Acevedo, Santiago Cordero and Rivera Ruperto each received a cash payment of $2,000. The money was never returned by any of the defendants, and none of the defendants ever reported the transactions.
Sentencing in the case will be scheduled by U.S. District Judge Carmen Consuelo Cerezo for later this year. At sentencing, Salinas Acevedo and Santiago Cordero face mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. Rivera Ruperto is presently serving a sentence of 126 years and 10 months in prison for his prior convictions and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison for his convictions today.
The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Anthony J. Phillips and Edward J. Loya Jr., of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. The case was investigated by the FBI. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice also provided assistance in this case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico also participated in the investigation and prosecution of this case.
October 6, 2010
Video: Attorney Gen. Holder reaction:
Puerto Rico (WCJB) -- In the biggest crackdown on police corruption in the FBI's 102-year history, authorities charged a total of 133 individuals in Puerto Rico Wednesday as the result of a probe into whether police provided protection for drug dealers.
All but four people, who were still being sought, were arrested Wednesday, authorities said. In all, 89 law enforcement officers and 44 other people were indicted as part of a two-year undercover investigation into 125 drug transactions.
The scope of Operation Guard Shack was also described as unprecedented because 750 FBI personnel were flown to the island to carry out the raids and make arrests, Attorney General Eric Holder said. In total, he said, more than 1,000 FBI personnel participated.
The investigation began when an undercover FBI agent posed as a dealer selling multiple kilograms of cocaine and "put the word out that he needed security during drug deals," the FBI said on its website.
"Many of those who responded were cops. They actively took part in the transactions by carrying weapons and patting down the drug buyers -- who were actually FBI informants."
The cops were paid between $500 and $4,500 for their efforts, the FBI said. "In all, more than $500,000 was paid in protection money."
Puerto Rico is a major shipping point for drugs between the East Coast and such South American countries as Colombia and Peru, said Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, the U.S. attorney for Puerto Rico.
She described the corruption as limited to a relatively small number of officers "who wanted to make a fast buck ... and needed the money."
"The people of Puerto Rico deserve better," Holder said. He told Puerto Ricans that "as you continue your fight against drug trafficking, violent crime and corruption, we will continue to stand with you."
The 133 defendants have been charged in 26 indictments with charges that include conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, attempt to possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, and use of a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking offense.
A grand jury in Puerto Rico returned the indictments last month, and they were unsealed Wednesday, officials said.
Arrested were 60 members of the Puerto Rico Police Department, 16 members of various local police departments, 12 correctional officers, eight former law officers, three National Guard soldiers, two U.S. Army officers, one administrative examiner in child support matters, one Social Security Administration employee and 30 other civilians.
The operations began at 3 a.m. ET Wednesday, the FBI said, when 65 tactical teams fanned out across the island, the FBI said. FBI personnel on hand included crisis negotiators, evidence response team members, police dogs and their handlers and 80 medical personnel, including a trauma surgeon and a veterinarian. They traveled in armored Humvees, helicopters and some 250 rental cars, the FBI said.
Some Puerto Rican police officers assisted in the investigation into alleged law enforcement corruption, said Rodriguez-Velez.
"They refused to tolerate the corruption they witnessed," she said.
Puerto Rico Police Department Chief Figueroa Sancha knew of the investigation, the FBI said, quoting him as saying, "All the officers arrested during today's takedown did not honor or value the significance of working for the Puerto Rico Police Department."
Not all of the law enforcement officers arrested knew each other, according to Rodriguez-Velez, and they came from different parts of the island. A police lieutenant was involved in recruiting others to provide protection for the drug dealers, she said. "Badges were sold and honor was compromised for drug money," she added.
"Public corruption does not just strike at the heart of good government. It also jeopardizes the security of our communities and our nation," Shawn Henry, FBI executive assistant director, said in a statement.
If convicted, the defendants face sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment, according to the Justice Department.
"This is a fight that cannot be won without the assistance of our community," said Rodriguez-Velez. "Today, I call upon the citizens of the community not to remain silent."
Posted: 10/28/2010 12:59:40 PM PDT
Members of the police union in scandal-plagued Bell on Thursday demanded a deeper investigation of the city’s former police chief and the suspension of a police lieutenant who they suggest was rewarded an excessive salary and benefits because of his close relationship with former City Administrator Robert Rizzo.
Officers in the small, working-class city said they want the Los Angeles County district attorney to investigate whether former Police Chief Randy Adams helped squash an investigation into wrongdoing in City Hall and if he continues to have a relationship with officials in Bell. They alleged that the department has been unable to account for the former chief's gun and badge, and asked the D.A. to determine whether he still has the items.
Police officers also asked for the suspension Lt. Ty Henshaw and a probe of his role into possible voter fraud. Union members distributed e-mail correspondences between Rizzo and other city administrators in which Rizzo asks that Henshaw’s salary be boosted to $10,500 a month. “I know this is going way over the line, but Ty has been the only one in the PD who has fully worked with us and I completely trust,” Rizzo writes in a June 30, 2009, e-mail.
Officer Gilbert Jara, president of the Bell police union, said citizens’ faith and trust in the small police force has been “violated” because of the relationship between Rizzo, Henshaw and Adams. "We believe it's time to take a hard look at those in the Bell Police Department who collaborated with Robert Rizzo," Jara said.
The media reported the usually high salaries of council members and top administrators in July, and a subsequent investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney resulted in a sweeping public corruption case that alleges city leaders misappropriated more than $5 million from the city treasury. Eight officials, including Rizzo, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and five current or former council members were arrested on felony corruption-related charges. In addition, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown filed suit against Adams, Rizzo, Hernandez and five others alleging they schemed to enrich themselves by inflating their salaries and pensions, and attempted to conceal their compensation. The suit asks for hundreds of thousands in refunds from the city leaders.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible civil rights violations in Bell focusing in part on allegations the city improperly used towing fees and other city fines to generate revenue. Law enforcement sources have told The media that the investigation is looking at whether city officials violated the civil rights of Latino residents with its aggressive towing practices that involved charging residents exorbitant fees to get their vehicles back. The city, which also has been ordered to refund property taxes that the state claims it illegally collected from residents, is in precarious financial shape and Brown’s office has asked the courts to appoint a monitor to watch over the city and its treasury.
Nov. 17, 2010
(File photo: Former and current Bell city employees attend a bail reduction hearing in Superior Court September 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Pictured are (L-R) former city Manager Robert Rizzo, former assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, former city Councilman Victor Bello and Mayor Oscar Hernandez.)
A judge says he's not sure whether he'll appoint a monitor to control finances in scandal-plagued Bell but he wants to be prepared.
The judge on Wednesday ordered the Los Angeles suburb and the state attorney general's office to each submit three candidates and he set another hearing for next week.
Bell has been adrift since eight former and current officials - including most of the City Council - were charged in September with misappropriating $5.5 million in public funds.
The attorney general's office, which is suing the eight for fraud, wants an independent monitor to handle Bell finances until residents can elect a new City Council next year.
Bell remains the target of several local, state and federal investigations into the enormous salaries some officials were paid.
Posted: 10/04/2010 07:54:40 AM PDT
BELL, CA -- There was a time in this modest blue-collar community when Mayor Oscar Hernandez was all but hailed as a superhero, the big friendly guy who said hello to everybody when he wasn't busy greeting them at his venerable corner grocery store. Those days ended abruptly last July after it was disclosed that Hernandez was presiding over a City Council with four of five members who were paying themselves and other leaders exorbitant salaries while one in six residents live in poverty.
Now all that has changed as the ousted city manager, the mayor and the three other council members face criminal charges in a scandal the district attorney called "corruption on steroids." Hernandez and council members George Mirabal, Luis Artiga and Teresa Jacobo, who once trumpeted themselves as champions of the people in this modest, largely Latino suburb of Los Angeles, have become all but pariahs in a community where many have lived and worked for decades.
At the Funeraria Del Angel Mirabal mortuary, which Mirabal and his family have been associated with for decades, no one would talk about him on a recent day. They pointed instead to flyers posted on every door noting that -- although his name still appears on the sign outside -- his family sold the business to the Service Corporation International funeral home chain 20 years ago.
"I can confirm he is no longer with our company," was all Service International spokeswoman Jennifer Roberts would say about him. Although Roberts wouldn't say when Mirabal left, several people say they understood he was there until recently. When a resident questioned a mortuary bill at a City Council meeting in July, Mirabal told him to call him the next day and he would straighten it out. Mirabal's name is also plastered on another sign at the mortuary these days, one in the window of the manager's office demanding that he and the other disgraced council members resign or be recalled.
A mile away, at the corner grocery store Hernandez has owned for 30 years, a large sign out front says it is under new management and that the name is being changed from Oscar's Korner Market to Osito's Meat Market. A cashier who declined to give her name said she hasn't seen the mayor in a month, although he lives right down the street. She said she didn't know the name of the market's new manager.
Now Hernandez' street, like others all over town, is lined with houses with red "Recall" signs displayed prominently in their front yards. (A group leading a recall drive against him and the others turned in petitions last week and are waiting to have the signatures verified.)
"The whole community is disappointed," said Sam Romo, who has lived in Bell more than 30 years and grew up playing with the mayor's son. He recalled dropping by Hernandez' store after school nearly every day, where the mayor would ask, "How's it going, Sammy?" and give him candy.
"He was almost like a superhero to the community, you know what I mean? The whole community trusted him," Romo said, noting that Hernandez, who arrived in Bell in the late 1960s as the town was undergoing a demographic shift, became one of its first Latino leaders. He's been active in the Chamber of Commerce, the local Masonic Lodge and other organizations.
In the first days after the salary scandal broke, Hernandez still maintained a high profile, handing out groceries at the city's monthly food bank and exchanging hugs with longtime friends. Several people, although admitting they were shocked by news of his salary, said that day they were reluctant to criticize him because they had known him and his family for years.
But in a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else, that quickly changed as word spread that various government agencies were also investigating allegations of voter fraud, racial profiling and other wrongdoing. At a City Council meeting attended by thousands of angry residents later that month, Hernandez and the others were showered with boos, insulted in English and Spanish and told to resign.
The mayor and Jacobo both spoke publicly of standing up for their people rather than resigning after the salary scandal was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. That's an expression several people now say they find irritating.
"He's a public servant and he's calling us his people," longtime resident Roger Ramirez said with disgust. "His people right now are in prison. Those are his people."
Mirabal is jailed in lieu of $260,000 bail, but Hernandez, Jacobo and Artiga have posted bail and returned home. Members of the community say they have been keeping low profiles since the morning of Sept. 21, when they were hauled off to jail in handcuffs.
A City Council meeting is scheduled for Monday night, and interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo said he expects those who aren't in jail to attend. He acknowledged, though, that he hasn't heard from Hernandez since his arrest.
"I have requested a briefing from the mayor, as we do before any council meeting," Carrillo said Friday. "I haven't heard back."
Hernandez and his fellow council members are also due in court Oct. 21 to be arraigned on charges of misappropriation of public funds. Also facing charges are former City Manager Robert Rizzo, former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and former council members George Cole and Victor Bello.
Spaccia was paid $376,288 a year. When numerous perks like vacation, insurance and other benefits were added to Rizzo's $787,637 annual salary, his total compensation package was about $1.5 million a year.
In a brief phone interview, Artiga said he expects to be exonerated, adding the congregation at Bell Community Church, where he is the longtime pastor, has stood by him and that most of his flock continue to attend services.
"They recognize my 17 years of service to the community," he said softly.
Phone numbers for Mirabal and Hernandez have been disconnected, and a polite young man who answered the door at Jacobo's home said simply, "She's not available."
Her street is also lined with red "Recall" signs, including one in the front yard of Juan Martinez, who said he's known Jacobo and her family for more than 20 years.
The retired railroad worker said he was friendly with all of the council members until shortly before the scandal broke.
"George Mirabal himself assured me they were doing nothing wrong," he said, adding he often accepted invitations from city officials to sing mariachi music at various community events. He was never paid, he said, because the officials told him the city didn't have any money.
"I really thought they were broke," he added. "Otherwise I might have charged them."
Cheating to Investigate!
September 27, 2010
Washington, D.C. (WCJB) -- During an open book exam on agent guidelines covering domestic investigations, "a significant number of FBI employees engaged in some form of cheating or improper conduct," a Justice Department report has found. The Office of Inspector General found agents and analysts broke rules by consulting with others about the exam, using and sharing answer sheets and in some instances even using a computer system flaw to reveal the correct answers to questions. The test was open book, but FBI employees were required to take it on their own and the last question specifically asked each test-taker to certify he or she did not consult other people in arriving at answers. In some instances, FBI officials became suspicious when employees finished the exam in less than 20 minutes when most employees needed an hour and a half or more.
The Inspector General's Office conducted interviews with a small number of employees in four field offices, one smaller resident agency office and two areas at FBI headquarters in Washington. The report found 22 people "cheated or acted improperly." The inspector general said the investigation was limited in scope but "we believe the extent of the cheating related to this test was greater than the cases we detailed in this report."
The report did not give names of employees who are alleged to have cheated, but it said among those are several top level officials at the Washington field office including the assistant director in charge there. The assistant director at the time was Joseph Persichini, who retired before the investigation and disciplinary decisions were finalized.
According to the report, three other top officials in the Washington office acted improperly, including the legal adviser. Those officials are appealing the decisions, which in two instances would include demotions to non-supervisory posts.
The report says in interviews a number of people said there was a lot of confusion about the testing procedures. The inspector general found some basis for that confusion but said that should not excuse cheating. The report says employees who failed the test did not suffer adverse consequences. Instead, they were offered remedial help and needed to re-take the test until they earned passing grades.
The inspector general recommended the FBI look for others who might have cheated on the test and also consider creating a new test and requiring employees to take it.
In a written statement, FBI Director Robert Mueller (pictured left) said the bureau will follow up on the 22 cases where people allegedly acted improperly as well as any other instances. Mueller noted "the vast majority of FBI employees successfully completed" the training and testing on the FBI guidelines. The director added, "Nothing excuses the conduct of those who chose not to comply when instructions were clear."
The test covered the bureau's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. The inspector general's report notes civil liberties groups and some members of Congress worried the new rules would allow investigations to infringe on citizens' privacy and civil rights. The FBI responded by ordering approximately 20,000 agents, analysts and technicians to take 16 and a half hours of classroom training on the procedures and then to take the test to ensure their understanding.
A federal law enforcement official said, "I don't think anyone thinks the FBI is an organization of cheaters." The official said there was a lot of confusion about how to take the test and added, "a lot of lessons have been learned."
January 14, 2010
Ex-chief UN weapons inspector in sex sting: Scott Ritter facing child-sex charges for 'unlawful contact with minor' online.
A former chief United Nations weapons inspector is accused of contacting what he thought was a 15-year-old girl in an Internet chat room, engaging in a sexual conversation and showing himself masturbating on a Web camera. Scott Ritter of Delmar, N.Y., who served as chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-98 and who was an outspoken critic of the second Bush administration in the run-up to the war in Iraq, is accused of contacting what turned out to be a Barrett Township police officer posing undercover as a teen girl.
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