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California First Amendment Coalition
|Monday July 19, 2010
George Cole -
The Brains Behind Rizzo's $800,000 & $100,000 Salary
for City Council
Bell, CA -
Bell is not the tidy city painted as such by city manager Robert Rizzo and mayor Oscar Hernandez in
justifying Rizzo's nearly 1 million dollar salary.
Back in the early 90's the previous city manager and mayor were indicted during a major corruption
scandal with Bell's Bicycle Card Club Casino, involving the mafia and massive siphoning of profits.
That's when the Feds stepped in to run the casino for a while. The casino is still in operation.
That was then. Flash forward some twenty plus years. In 2009, the County Sheriff's office raided a
super Meth lab in this city on rental property owned by Mayor Oscar Hernandez.
Then, just last week, in jaw-dropping news that rippled throughout the country, we find out that Bell
city manager Robert Rizzo is paid $800,000 per year salary, voted on by a city council that makes
$100,000 per year......in a city of nearly 40,000 residents, a low income area, demographically
equivalent to adjacent Cudahy, statistically the poorest and most economically depressed city in L.A.
County, if not California. From an urban planning perspective, Bell's urban fabric is indistinguishable
from neighboring Cudahy.
George Cole was mayor in the city of Bell during the time when Rizzo's salary shot up nearly 11-fold,
earning $72,000 in 1993, finishing up at $787,637 today. It was Cole who was, and still is, the de facto
Don of Bell.
The L.A. Times would agree. In a January 4, 2007 profile published of George Cole, staff reporter
Hector Becerra concluded that George Cole is "an emerging political leader in the southeast", the de-
facto political boss of the southeast cities region. At least that was the thesis pitched to Hector by Cole
The Times profile of George Cole as the head of the political machinery of the southeast was timed to
raise Cole's cache right when L.A.'s mayor Villaraigosa was strong-arming LAUSD with his AB 1381
takeover plan. Villaraigosa allowed room in the ill-fated, ill-advised bill to specifically meet George
Cole's demands that southeast cities Council of Mayor's, of which Cole was one at the time, would get
a vote to control schools in this area (see WatchOurCity.com's report from August 2, 2006). Becerra's
theme placed Cole as an Anglo survivor in a Latino surrounded political, demographic and ethnic
community. More remarkable was the political power wielded by Cole, and not just in Bell, but
throughout the southeast region and beyond, with his influence reaching the office of the mayor of
L.A., the West Basin Water Board, LAUSD, and Sacramento.
In Bell, Cole hand-picked city council candidates, that is, when elections were held. Bell held no
elections during the 2002 or 2005 election years, officially due to a lack of candidates opposing George
Cole and his incumbents. It is most curious that during these same two election years, neighboring
Maywood, Huntington Park and South Gate saw multiple candidates running for the two or three seats
up for grabs, with Cole even giving them campaign contributions, as he did to Elba Romo in 2005 in
Huntington park ($1,000), and John Noguez in 2003 ($3,500; a bit more on this later).
In early 2005, a young college grad, long time Bell resident, comes home to run for public office. The
timing couldn't have been worse, nor the opponent more formidable. An employee of George Cole's
Oldtimers Foundation, Enrique Aranda, approached the young man's employer at the time, a public
agency, to demand that they fire the young grad. The threat was enough to spook the young man, to
not only move out of Bell, but find suitable employment elsewhere, where threats to his livelihood
couldn't reach him. Such tricks do tend to thin the herds of prospective candidates opposing George
Cole's council seat.
Then there was the case of Nestor Valencia who ran twice against the George Cole machinery, in 2007
and 2009. See WatchOurCity.com's report on how George deployed other tricks of the political trade
on Valencia (click here and here). Suffice it to say, George likes it down and dirty when it comes to
protecting his territory from poachers.
Cole used his tenure in Bell city council to consolidate his hold on Bell's municipal finances and finesse
his plans in casting a region-wide net. Then abruptly, without warning, quits his city council seat in
early October 2008, as reported here at WatchOurCity.com, but not before securing a place for his
council seat replacement, a reverend, Luis Atiga. Then, when Artiga was up for reelection in March
2009, Cole took a most active role in managing Artiga's campaign, at the same time that Cole was
managing the incumbents in Cudahy (see WatchOurCity.com reports from March 3, 2009 and March
The question is, why, when George Cole had a most complete grip on the local political machinery,
would he quit his city council seat so unexpectedly and abruptly, and so uncharacteristic for a regional
power broker of his stature? Over two decades invested in building up a well-oiled political machinery
was not going to be wasted that easily.
Ironically, George Cole's entry into politics was on the heels of that Bell Casino political scandal, telling
the Times “...it was not about simply replacing white faces with brown faces. It was about replacing
bad leaders with good leaders,” Cole said." (see full reprint of Times report below).
All the FBI needs to do is follow the money. Such criminal salaries as given to Rizzo, assistant city
manager Spaccia and Police Chief Adams (close to $1,620,925 million combined for all three, plus
another half a million to council members), are not voted on gratis by city council members like George
without some understanding or expectation of a kickback scheme taking place, in one form or another.
Is any part of city manager Rizzo's $800,000 salary making its way back to any of a myriad of
accounts controlled by George Cole such as the Oldtimers Foundation, Southeast Cities Schools
Coalition or Southeast Schools Foundation, city council campaigns, Political Action Committees, such
as the Better Southeast Coalitions, the Bell Food Bank, or to associate candidates in Huntington Park,
namely John Noguez?
In 2005, at the strong insistence of George Cole, Bell converted from a General Law city to a Charter
City. The differences are quite stark. Other cities, Cudahy, Huntington Park and South Gate, all operate
under the General Law statute. The only other local Charter Law city is Vernon, and just look at the
felony indictments of its mayor and city manager. George Cole in Bell had a good role model to emulate.
Why did George Cole insist so much on going Charter? It made little sense for such a small city.
Typically, only large metropolitan cities have incentive to go Charter due to structural requirements of
increased municipal complexities. A small city such as Bell gains no such structural efficiencies of
scale. However, there are other huge legal benefits which George was salivating to own.
Going Charter (click here to see a comparison chart: Charter vs. General Law) was a critical milestone
and most important juncture for George Cole and the city of Bell. That's when things started to get
interesting in Bell, and the entire Southeast cities. Bell's graduation to a charter city allowed the city
liberties not permitted under General Law statute, and set the groundwork for actions leading directly to
the legal predicaments Bell officials find themselves in these days. Pasadena, Long Beach, Los Angeles,
Santa Monica, are all Charter cities, share similar traits, meet certain similar criteria such as population
threshold levels. But Bell?
For example under "Ability to Govern Municipal Affairs", a General Law city is "bound by the State's
General Law". In contrast, a Charter city has "Supreme authority over municipal affairs". Also, under
"Finance and Taxing Power" of the comparison chart, a General Law city is limited in its taxing
abilities, whereas a Charter city has the "power to tax" (and, boy, has the city taxed its residents,
creating indebtedness without residents voting; such taxes help to pay for the criminally inflated
salaries). Under "Public Funds for Candidates in Municipal Elections", a General Law city cannot use
public funds for elections or candidates; a Charter city can.
When on July 1 the city of Bell took over the entire municipal functions of the city of Maywood, it
raised some interesting legal questions. A Charter city taking over a financially defunct General law city
is something new and untested. But Cole's city of Bell likes to test state statute, as recently illustrated
with the high pay L.A. Times report. Little did Bell realize that though it has complete control of its own
municipal affairs as a Charter city, those rights do not extent to it the privilege of usurping the State's
right to deal with General Law city troubles, such as in Maywood. We'll leave this question to Jerry
Brown's State Attorney General's office to answer (it would be surprising if the State abrogated its
rights to Bell already).
The public record reflects that it was George Cole who led Bell's Charter effort, then led the drive to
increase salaries to a criminal level. George knew, as the D.A.'s office confirmed, that a city
administrator's salary is not job market driven, but rather pegged to the whim of city council members.
The Times' front page breaking story on Bell salaries included a graphic chart showing a time-salary
relationship of Rizzo's salary. The highest spike occurred right when Cole resigned his council seat
(WatchOurCity.com was the only media reporting on this on October 8, 2008). Right before leaving,
Cole inserted in city ordinance language the equivalent of a time-release salary capsule, giving authority
for Rizzo's last final spike in salary taking effect months after George was no longer an elected official.
The timing of George Cole's sudden resignation from Bell city council coincided perfectly with Rizzo's
final salary spikes, thus begging the question, was there an understanding of a kickback to George?
George is quite familiar with kickback schemes, or Quid Pro Quo (WatchOurCity.com reported back
on May 15, 2006). George donated $3,500 to Huntington Park's John Noguez for his maiden city
council political campaign in 2003. In gratitude, few months later, Noguez makes sure his city council
awards Cole a $3.9 million dollar transportation contract, then an over $600,000 housing management
contract, and given the lion's share of city Community Development Block Grant monies (CDBG's).
The current investigation by the D.A.'s office into Bell's salary problems will probably not go
anywhere, with precedent to back this observation. Ample evidence suggests that the D.A. protects
some folks in southeast cities (see WatchOurcity.com reports from January 16, 2006 and March 27,
D.A. Steve Cooley has some history with these southeast cities that itself is shady, as an L.A. Weekly
report by Jeffrey Anderson ("The Town the Law Forgot", 2-22-07) exposed when reporting on
Cudahy. Jefferey noted that "I was always looking for fraud and misconduct wherever I could find it:
the bigger, the better. The story about Cudahy came from a lawsuit alleging conflict of interest. Back in
2000, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley took office and made a pledge to find and
prosecute corruption in L.A. County. One of the first cities he went after was Cudahy. In 2001, Cooley
convened a grand jury to investigate whether Cudahy City Manager George Perez violated criminal
conflict-of-interest laws when he voted as a city councilmember for an ordinance that lifted a one-year
waiting period between holding political office and appointed office and then stepped down from the
council to become city manager -- the city's highest paying job."
Jeffrey continues: "Cooley’s office wasn't able to get an indictment and concluded they "could not
prove a criminal violation." The defense attorney was Cooley's best friend".
The result was that no one was convicted, but Cooley's friend, former L.A. County D.A. Philibosian,
walked away with a million dollars and change in legal fees. Steve Cooley baptized Philibosian's son;
they fished and hunted together, and are all around best friends. Here in Huntington Park, the D.A.
owes political favors to the the grand mentor of them all here in the southeast cities, Rosario Marin,
former Huntington Park council member, and former U.S. Treasurer. Back when Cooley was an
unknown Deputy D.A. under Philobosian, he decided to run for office but found himself with a large
handicap: no name recognition. To beat this, Cooley needed the State Republican Party's nomination
Enter the top Republican Latina, Rosario Marin, then Huntington Park councilwoman, and Republican
Party Secretary. It was in this second post that Marin was instrumental to Cooley, as she also sat on
the Party's candidate endorsement committee. She cut a deal with Steve Cooley: Marin gets him the
Republican Party's endorsement for D.A., in exchange, he protect her people in the southeast cities.
George Cole was one of her people, the other is Huntington Park mayor John Noguez and city attorney
Such political cover does seem to encourage and embolden the very seemingly criminal actions taken in
Bell and the rest of the southeast cities. And with enough incentive to wring opportunity, even the
D.A.'s compadres, such as Philibosian, can also profit from impoverished municipalities as done in
Here in Bell, Rizzo's attorney, Tom Brown, comes well recommended due his political pedigree in local
politics. Brown was the defense attorney who represented Albert Robles in South Gate. Robles is now
sitting in federal prison arising from South Gate's massive corruption probe. The law firm of Shepard
Mullin and Richter ended up firing Tom after the firm's multi-million dollar legal fees, agreed to by
Robles, were rejected by South Gate's new city council in the wake of it's insolvency triggered by
Robles' looting of the city treasury. Tom now is partner in Brown and White, the law firm also
representing the city of Bell.
George Cole's profile in the L.A. Times
(Reprinted from L.A. Times)
Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 4, 2007
When George Cole moved to southeast Los Angeles County looking for factory work in the early 1970s,
the mostly white and working-class area was being transformed by waves of Latino immigration.
Cole applied for an apartment and the landlady bestowed her approval.
Soon, he got a job—$3 an hour at a plastic bag factory. He was the only white worker in a plant full of
illegal immigrants. He got the job by tricking the white owner into thinking he spoke fluent Spanish by
reciting lines he remembered from high school Spanish. He received 50 cents an hour more than the
immigrants on the line.
Back then, Cole only knew enough Spanish to trick a gullible businessman. But from the moment he
began working alongside the immigrants, he began to learn—and never looked back. It would help forge
Over the next 35 years, his adopted town of Bell—along with surrounding cities such as Huntington Park,
Bell Gardens South Gate and Maywood—were transformed from mostly white to more than 90% Latino.
Most of the manufacturing plants, such as Bethlehem Steel, Firestone Tire and General Motors,
He was elected to the Bell City Council when it was still all-white and now is its only white member.
Cole has emerged as a leader for southeast Los Angeles County. He took a prominent role in making
sure overwhelmingly Latino cities served by the Los Angeles Unified School District have a voice in Los
Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s takeover plan, which a judge threw out last month.
“George Cole is a Latino leader,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said, “even though he is not Latino.”
Consider a community meeting last year where state Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) introduced her
Democratic successor, Ron Calderon.
Calderon spoke in English. Escutia translated. A few people got annoyed.
South Gate Councilman Henry Gonzalez said one woman in the crowd referred to Cole and cracked, “Here’
s a white man who can speak better than you can!”
Cole, 56, is not embracing another culture as much as trying to fit into the world around him. It was a
lesson he learned from his father, a Presbyterian preacher and activist who ministered to Latino
farmworkers in Arizona in the late 1950s.
“My father taught me to embrace change,” Cole said. “A lot of people were afraid of the changes that
were taking place, but I just accepted it.”
After working at the bag factory, Cole landed a job at Bethlehem Steel in Vernon, eventually earning $16
He became active in the union. Over time, more Latinos joined him on the lines. He traveled to Mexico
City for a conference on immigrant workers rights. His Spanish continued to improve.
“He stood out as a big guy, this gabacho speaking Spanish,” said Rudy Montalvo, a longtime friend from
his union days. “Our people are downright brutal and cruel if they see a pocho [American-born Latino]
take Spanish and tear it up,” Montalvo said. “But you turn it around, and someone like George starts
talking Spanish and they embrace you.”
The next few years amounted to a demographic earthquake in southeast L.A. County as Latino
immigrants—legal and illegal—flowed in.
When Cole and his wife, Judy, moved to Bell, one of his biggest worries was that his children wouldn’t
have anyone to play with because “there were hardly any children in the streets. Most of the neighbors
were older, white,” he said. Soon, his children had more than enough playmates as streets filled with
One of the Coles’ sons, Jason, played on Garfield High School’s varsity football team. It was a tradition
that the varsity players shaved their heads.
“We told the coach we were not going to allow our kid to shave his head,” Judy Cole said. “We didn’t
want him to be in a situation where he could be construed as a gangbanger.”
Her sons rarely complained about being treated differently, even though they were among the only white
students at the East Los Angeles school.
The Coles adapted, but transition was more difficult for others in the community.
At the time, Bell was in the grips of a casino corruption scandal that would lead to indictments against a
former mayor and a city manager. Friends who knew Cole for his union and nonprofit work suggested
that he should run for office.
Cole said the tipping point was when he took his two boys to a park only to see part of the playground
area and the park being razed to make room for an office for city staff.
“It told me the priorities of the city were all screwed up,” Cole said.
Cole used Spanish campaign literature, a first for the city, when he joined the all-white council in 1984.
Hernandez campaigned for Cole and was criticized by some friends.
“They said, ‘Why are you supporting a white man? Why not support a Mexican American?’ ” Hernandez
recalled. “I told them, ‘It doesn’t matter if he’s a white man. He’s got a Spanish heart.’ “
Increasingly, Cole took on issues that resonated with the growing Latino community. Cole began to host
Tuesday night meetings to discuss education issues. Most of the people who attended were Latino
immigrants. Cole helped ferry local parents to school board meetings. He complained that schools in the
southeast got short shrift in part because they were poor and Latino.
For many Latinos new to town, he became a kind of fixer.
“He’s the guy who delivers, whether it’s a low-flush toilet to a home or getting someone’s kid some
help,” said J. Arnoldo Beltran, an attorney long involved in the Latino community.
Once, a community activist—a former fellow steelworker—pulled Cole aside and asked for his help in
filling more City Council seats with Latinos.
“I told him it was not about simply replacing white faces with brown faces. It was about replacing bad
leaders with good leaders,” Cole said.
Some friends believe he many have embraced Latino culture too much—or at least the cuisine. After
Cole had a heart attack last winter, Felisa Martinez, 54, a patron of the Oldtimers Foundation, told him
he had to lay off the burritos and tacos he loved. Instead, she brought him dish after dish of diced
Today, Cole is one of only two white council members in the Latino cities of southeast L.A. County. The
other is Bill DeWitt, who kept his lumber company in South Gate as other businesses left.
Cole has his detractors. Some opponents call him a wannabe political boss who uses his long service on
the council, in addition to the Oldtimers Foundation, to bully foes. But even those critics, many of whom
declined to speak on the record, say Cole is popular.
But Cole said he feels less comfortable when he’s away from home. “When I’m in a restaurant out in
Rancho Cucamonga and everyone around me is white,” he said, “then I feel different. It feels funny.”
(Courtesy of the L.A. Times)
Special Encore Presentation
(Editor's note: Encore posting of this
December 2005 report sets historical
context to today's report)
Honor Among Thieves
Depriving The Public of Honest
Services. George Cole's fingers
in Huntington Park cookie jar of
politics, city contracts, and