In yet another controversy to hit beleaguered Bell Gardens, the police chief has accused City Manager Maria Chacon of wanting to use municipal funds to pay the traffic fines of one of her supporters.
The allegation detailed in a memorandum written by Police Chief Manuel E. Ortega, could deal another political blow to the once powerful Chacon, who was placed on paid leave after prosecutors last month filed a conflict-of-interest charge against her.
Ortega said he believed that Chacon wanted the city to "pay for" two traffic tickets for her friend Laura Arzt, but the chief concluded that it would be illegal to do so, according to the memorandum dated July 17.
Chacon's attorney, Edward Munoz, strongly denied the allegations. "Mrs. Chacon would never make such a request," Munoz said. "It would be inconsistent with her character."
Chacon was not available for comment.
The memorandum, recently obtained by The Times, threatens to sink the working-class city further into political crisis.
Earlier this week, a citizens group launched a recall attempt against Chacon's allies on the City Council. And Mayor Ramiro Morales is under investigation for allegedly trying to run over a former council member with his car.
Some residents now demand that the council fire Chacon. They cite the memo as confirmation of long-held suspicions about how she ran the city during her seven-year tenure as councilwoman and manager.
"The truth is finally coming out," said Joaquin Penilla, a former councilman and frequent Chacon critic. "'There was no law for [Chacon], only for the residents."
But Morales, the mayor, wasn't so quick to believe the word of the police chief. He said there is a politically charged environment in the city, and he wasn't going to point blame at Chacon.
"With all these things going on, I don't even know who to trust," Morales said.
Arzt, a 55-year-old travel agency employee, freely admits she is not a good driver. Ticketed twice for running stop signs in her 1986 Buick, Arzt said she went to City Hall to complain that the tickets had been erroneously issued.
"In Mexico, when you see a stop sign, you brake, make sure nobody's coming and then cross," said Arzt, a Mexican immigrant. "But now I've learned my lesson: I have to come to a complete stop."
Arzt said Chacon helped her talk to the chief about the tickets, but she insists that Chacon never sought to have the city pay the $228 in traffic fines. Arzt said she will pay the fines soon.
Ortega declined to comment, saying through a spokesman that the memorandum was only for internal City Hall use. Los Angeles County prosecutors said they would review the case if it was referred to them.
Prosecutors alleged in June that Chacon, as a councilwoman, orchestrated her own managerial appointment by pressuring fellow members to vote for her. They also say she voted for measures that cleared the way for her appointment.