We are personally affected by the political scandal in the city of Bell, California. According to an article in the The Los Angeles Times, and as other media outlets have reported, city leaders in Bell were paying themselves outrageous salaries and benefits and we are only now learning where this money came from. As always in these cases, it came from the pockets of the hard working citizens and businesses of the city. Investigations have already revealed the city has one of the highest property tax rates in Los Angeles County and now details are emerging about the gangster like practices business in the city had to deal with. My brother in law owns a tire shop in Bell and our family was impacted by this scandal and we are now learning he made excessive payments to meet city demands, as other local business were also forced to.
The original of the scandal, as the Los Angeles Times reported, Bell’s former city leader, Robert Rizzo, and seven other current and former officials were charged by Los Angeles County prosecutors several months ago with multiple counts of corruption, mostly related to efforts to conceal their outsized salaries, including Rizzo’s at more than $1.5 million. All have pleaded not guilty to charges.
My brother in law owns a small tire shop located on busy Atlantic Blvd. in the city of Bell. Along with tires, he also sells all the various custom rims and chrome wheels, including the super size Dubs, as they’re called. They sell and change tires and do various general car service and repairs. When I see all tricked out Hondas and Toyotas in his shop and all the high school kids hanging out there, working on their rides, always trying to improve them, I remember back to my own high school days when I made extra money working for a local tire shop in Philadelphia. The big difference is back then in the 1980’s all my friends has souped up Chevy Novas, Pontiac Firebirds, Chevy Camaros, but we all cared just as much as these kids today.
My brother in law has owned the shop for about five years and never really said anything about the political climate in Bell or his forced payments. In speaking with him now, he has told me he was scared, scared of what would happen if he didn’t make the payments. This is called extortion and I agree and support that additional charges should be brought against the Bell politicians he dealt with. My brother has a family, my sister his wife and two amazing kids. As the owner of a small business struggling to make a profit, and as the only source of the family’s income, he was not in a position to fight or risk the shut down of his business. He needed that revenue to survive and the Bell city leaders knew this.
The article lists some dramatic examples of other Bell business owners and what they were subjected to, as well as the free-wheeling negotiations to make settlements. The city charged illegal and excessive fees for various permits and conditional use permits required by businesses to operate. They also forced businesses to estimate their revenue, pay sales tax based on the estimate, and be responsible for the entire estimate, regardless of whether the business actually generated that much money. The article reports the city also sometimes set these required payments, also regardless of the reality of the businesses income. All of these practices are illegal.
The extra money my brother in law paid to these crooked politicians to keep his business open is money he could have spent on housing, or food or his children’s college fund. Instead it went to line the pockets of these alleged criminals. Myself and my family can only hope that justice will prevail in the end and these former civic leaders will be forced to contemplate their actions in prison.
Paloma Esquivel and Robert J. Lopez Bell demanded extra fees from some businesses The Los Angeles Times via latimes.com