Nightly News | September 21, 2010
WILLIAMS: Good evening.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: With political anger roaring across this country like a prairie fire, tonight we're going to take you to a small town where the citizens there found out how much their public servants were making and they went wild. It happened in Bell , California , where the former city manager, just for starters, was making $800,000. Well, tonight eight current and former town officials are in jail. The LA County DA is calling this "corruption on steroids," and all public officials like them across the country should probably regard this as a warning shot. We begin tonight with NBC 's George Lewis , who is in the LA suburb tonight. George , good evening.
GEORGE LEWIS reporting: Good evening, Brian . The eight are accused of misappropriating $5 1/2 million of city funds for their own use. Authorities from the district attorney's office rounded them up first thing this morning.
Unidentified Man #1: Excuse me, do you have anything to say to the charges against you?
LEWIS: The big fish in this case is former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo , picked up at his luxury home in Huntington Beach , California . He's accused of stealing $4.3 million in public funds .
Mr. STEVE COOLEY (Los Angeles County District Attorney): Rizzo , acting as the unelected and unaccountable czar of the city of Bell , secretly set his own salary.
Unidentified Man #2: There you go.
LEWIS: Rizzo is one of eight Bell city officials, present and former, arrested today. The others are accused of misappropriating $1.2 million. Officers used a battering ram to break down the door of Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez when he delayed coming out.
Mr. COOLEY: The complaint alleges they used the tax dollars collected from the hard-working citizens of Bell as their own piggy bank, which they then looted at will.
LEWIS: The district attorney making it clear he's going after anyone involved in this.
Mr. COOLEY: I would charge my mother if I had evidence against my mother.
Mayor OSCAR HERNANDEZ: Please, I need respect from everybody. Please.
LEWIS: The people of Bell stormed city council meetings after learning in July about the six-figure salaries officials were receiving.
Protesters: Another one bites the dust !
LEWIS: Today, citizens were elated at news of the arrests.
Unidentified Man #3: I went like this! Yes! We did it!
LEWIS: The California attorney general , now making a run for governor, has sued Bell city officials, demanding they give back most of their hefty salaries.
Mr. JERRY BROWN (California Attorney General): This is something when you see it, you can smell it. And this stinks to high heaven.
LEWIS: Rizzo and the others are scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow morning. The district attorney says he intends to ask the judge to set bail for Rizzo at $3.6 million. Brian :
WILLIAMS: George Lewis in Bell , California , tonight to start us off.