Rizzo asked how much profit he might bring in, saying he needed money to pay the city's police and fire departments, according to Salazar. He proposed that Salazar pay $13,000 a year. Salazar said he left without making a commitment.
City records show that in August 1999, a $13,000 annual fee was included in the tire store's conditional use permit. The document was signed by Chris Daglas, the owner of the property on which the tire shop was situated. The fee was cited in a memo from Tarango to Rizzo.
In 2001, Salazar got a bill saying he owed $16,250 for "in lieu of sales tax" fees dating to 2000, according to a copy of the document reviewed by The Times. Salazar said he ignored the bill, and a few months later was summoned to City Hall to meet with Rizzo.
Salazar said he told Rizzo that business was bad. The city administrator seemed sympathetic but still wanted him to pay, Salazar recalled. They negotiated a settlement of two $3,000 payments to be paid to the city of Bell. Salazar kept one check stub for $3,000 paid in May 2002, which is marked, misspelling the city administrator's name, "per conversation with Rizo," according to a copy reviewed by reporters.
When Salazar sold the store a couple of years later, the city did not put a lien on the business for the thousands of dollars he had not paid. Salazar said that convinced him of what he had suspected all along: The program was illegal.
George Sahagun, who bought the business from Salazar in 2004, said in an interview that his first knowledge of the payments demanded by Bell came three years later, when a city code inspector showed up at the tire store and said he had two hours to be at City Hall to settle an outstanding debt or his business would be shut down. City officials told him he owed $39,000 for three years of unpaid fees, city records show.
Sahagun called Daglas, the property owner who had a meeting with city officials in December 2007, records show. Sahagun and Daglas have both described their encounters with city officials to the district attorney's investigators.
At City Hall, Daglas was told he owed $104,000 for fees not paid since 1999, when his conditional use permit was approved. Daglas said in an interview that he was surprised to learn that Ricardo Gonzalez, Bell's former director of Business Development and Relations, was ready to negotiate.
Daglas recalled Gonzalez leaving the room several times to get approvals before they finally settled on a $30,000 payment to clear the debt and additional payments of $6,000 a year going forward. In an interview with The Times, Gonzalez said he was consulting with Rizzo, who approved the final settlement.
The settlement was written up that day and presented to Daglas as an addendum to the conditional use permit that had been approved by the City Council eight years earlier. According to the Bell City Charter, only the council can change such an agreement.
Daglas wrote a check that day for $20,000 and later made two more payments for $5,000 each, records show. In September 2009, he sent a check for $6,000 to cover the new agreement and apologized for being late, saying "times are very tough."
"I had no other choice," Daglas said in an interview. "What could I do?"