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Bell owes nearly $500,000, California parks department says

Already struggling to stay out of bankruptcy, Bell has been told by the state Department of Parks and Recreation that it owes the agency nearly $500,000 because of irregularities in its spending of grant money, mostly under former City Administrator Robert Rizzo.

In a memorandum last week to the City Council, interim Chief Administrative Officer Ken Hampian called the problem “a sizable one.” Hampian has just completed his first week on the job. The city faces a deficit of more than $4 million.

Parks and Recreation told Bell officials in a June 30 letter that the city had 30 days to repay $481,176. Sedrick Mitchell, a spokesman for the department, said his agency is arranging a meeting with Bell to discuss the issue.

Among the problems a parks auditor discovered were that the City Council had not approved contracts, that contracts were not awarded through competitive bidding as the city charter requires, and that there were conflicts of interest.

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The grants, which totaled $4.781 million, were awarded in 2003 and 2004, said Barbara Baker, manager of the Parks Office of Grants and Local Services.

One problem occurred early this year, long after Rizzo left, when the city did not provide construction cost records the auditor requested.

According to Parks and Recreation memos, some of the grant reviews were triggered by a state controller’s office audit of state and federal funds Bell received.

That report, issued in November, found that Rizzo, perhaps illegally, steered more than $700,000 in government grant money to companies without getting contracts, engaging in competitive bidding or obtaining council approval.

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Rizzo and seven other former Bell officials have been charged with various counts of corruption.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com.


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