Bell, Calif., real estate deal scrutinized

March 24, 2011 at 8:51 PM
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LOS ANGELES, March 24 (UPI) -- Officials in Bell, Calif., the city notorious for its high-cost government, paid double for a tract of land that was never redeveloped, investigators say.

The small city in Los Angeles County came under scrutiny last year when the Los Angeles Times reported it had some of the highest-paid officials in the country. Robert Rizzo, the former city administrator and alleged mastermind of a pay scheme, had an annual salary twice that of President Obama.

The latest scandal involves a piece of property now leased by a carwash. The Times said Rizzo and former General Services Manager Eric Eggena arranged its purchase for $1.35 million, when it was appraised at $612,000.

The owner was supposed to donate $425,000 to the city to use for a park or children's facilities. If he did so, no one can determine what happened to the money.

The ostensible aim of the purchase was redevelopment, but the carwash then on the site is still in business five years later. The father and son who operate the carwash were supposed to have first refusal if the land was up for sale, but the price paid by the city was clearly beyond their means.

"This is a real estate deal that ran amok," said Larry Kosmont, a Los Angeles real estate consultant who has been a public official in several Los Angeles area communities. "Essentially they cooked the books on this."

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