» Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

The City of Bell Scandal Revisited

The City of Bell scandal is the largest local government scandal in the history of the state of California. The scandal raised critical questions about local government finances, law, citizen engagement, and media coverage. The lessons of the Bell scandal need to be understood by all if similar scandals are to be prevented.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

(The conference was open to the public, students, faculty, and staff)
This conference was made possible due to a generous grant from Fieldstead and Company.

 “Corruption on steroids” is what LoRobert Rizzos Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley called the scandal in Bell, California, a working class community of 35,000 people in Los Angeles County. City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid a total of 1.5 million dollars in wages and benefits; and the assistant city manager Angela Spaccia and police chief Randy Adams were making 1/2 million dollars in salaries and benefits—grossly more than their counterparts in neighboring cities. Both Rizzo and Spaccia received lengthy prison sentences and were ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution. Adams was forced to resign. Also, Bell’s city council members who received $100,000 a year salaries—grossly more than what other city council members make--pleaded no-contest to criminal charges. They also agreed to pay the city a total of nearly 1 million dollars in restitution. "Bell” is also the story of rebirth and renewal of a city battered by scandal. It is the story of an unlikely coalition of first generation Hispanics and Muslims-- political amateurs all—who successfully fought to restore transparency and democracy to their community.

What can we learn from the Bell fiasco? What’s broken and how can it be fixed?  What are Bell’s lessons? Was the scandal in Bell unique? Or, did Bell lay bare problems that may be present in other local municipalities. On February 19, an eclectic group of local government “watchers”--journalists, citizen activists, lawyers, elected officials, and academics will come together for a day to shed some light on these questions. In addition to their presentations, many of the panelists have written white papers which will be published on a website which will serve as a repository for the scandal.

(Photo Credit: Robert Lachman - Copyright © 2010. Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with Permission.)

Learn more about the details of this scandal in the Timeline Bell: ‘Corruption on Steroids’ written by Los Angeles Times Staffers.

Bell Scandal 4 Bell Scandal 5 Bell Scandal Mug Shots


+ - Conference Agenda and Video Links

Continental Breakfast 9:15 a.m. - 10 a.m.

Argyros Forum (AF) 209ABC

Panel #1 - Origins & Chronology 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. (Watch Panel)

Argyros Forum (AF) 209ABC 

Moderator: Fred Smoller, Associate Professor of Political Science, Chapman University

Jeff Gottlieb, Senior Writer for the Los Angeles Times

Ali Saleh, Councilman City of Bell

Cristina Garcia, Assemblywoman

Teri Sforza, “Watchdog” reporter for the Orange County Register (Teri Sforza's Presentation)


Lunch 11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.

Beckman Hall (BK) 404


Panel #2 - Causes 1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m . (Watch Panel)

Argyros Forum (AF) 209ABC

Moderator: Fred Smoller, Associate Professor of Political Science, Chapman University.

Tom Hogen-Esch, Professor of Political Science, California State University Northridge (Tom Hogen-Esch's Presentation)

John Chiang, Treasurer for the State of California

Joe Mathews, Author and Journalist


Panel #3 - Solutions  3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m. (Watch Panel)

Argyros Forum (AF) 209ABC

Moderator: John Compton Assistant Professor Political Science Chapman University

Doug Willmore, City Manager of Bell (Doug Willmore's Presentation)

Mike Moodian, Associate Professor Brandman University & Adjunct Professor Chapman University (Mike Moodian's Presentation)

George Frederickson, Professor of Public Administration (Emeritus), University of Kansas (George Frederickson's Presentation)

Jennifer G. Rodgers, Executive Director, Center for Public Integrity, Columbia University (Jennifer Rodger's Presentation)

Reception 5:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Kennedy Hall (KH) 237A&B


Panel #4 - Bell, Democracy and The Law 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. (Watch Panel)

Kennedy Hall (KH) 237A&B

Chapman University is a State Bar of California approved MCLE provider and certifies that this activity has been approved for MCLE credit in the amount of 1.5 units of general MCLE credit.

Introduction Tom Campbell, Dean, Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Moderator: Ken Stahl, Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Harland W. Braun, JD, defended Angela Spaccia, Bell’s assistant city manager

Anthony R. Taylor, JD, Partner - Aleshire & Wynder, LLP, attorney for the City of Bell

James W. Spertus, managing partner at Spertus, Landes & Umhofer, LLP in Los Angeles

Steve Cooley, served as the 41st District Attorney of Los Angeles County

David Aleshire, Aleshire & Wynder, LLP, attorney for the City of Bell

+ - Panelist Bios

Aleshire David Aleshire was appointed as City Attorney of Bell in July 2011, as part of the reform efforts by the new City Council after the corruption scandal. Mr. Aleshire has served the City of Bell as its City Attorney since that time through the law firm he is the founding partner of, Aleshire & Wynder, LLP. In 2011, the City of Bell faced liabilities exceeding $75 million, besides the need to adopt new contracting and policy reforms.  The City is now back on solid footing and nearly all of these liability claims have been successfully resolved.  The restoration of Bell is one of Mr. Aleshire's most important achievements in his nearly 40 years of practice in municipal law.  In September of 2014, the City of Bell adopted a proclamation recognizing City Attorney David Aleshire for his service to the City of Bell. Mr. Aleshire graduated from UCLA with a J.D. in 1975 and M.A. in Urban Planning in 1976.  Prior to that, Mr. Aleshire graduated from Stanford University in 1972.
Braun Harland W. Braun graduated  from UCLA Law School in 1967, where he was a Senior Editor of the Law Review. Mr. Braun was a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney from 1968 to 1973 where he prosecuted 5 members of the Manson family, as well as co-prosecuting a case for a murder which occurred in Switzerland. He has been a criminal specialist  certified by the California State Bar since 1973. In private practice, Mr. Braun represented Vincent Bugliosi in a perjury case arising out of the Manson family prosecution, represented Congresswoman Bobbie Fiedler in a political bribery case arising out of the Republican Senate primary in 1986, and represented physician Robert Nejdl in the "Kaiser Doctors"  murder case where a doctor was charged with murder  for disconnecting the I.V. on a comatose  patient. Mr. Braun also represented producer George Folsey in the "Twilight Zone" manslaughter case; Assemblywoman Gwen Moore in the Sacramento sting case; and Dr. Michael Gottlieb, Elizabeth Taylor's physician, in an over­ prescribing investigation. He represented Angela Spaccia, the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer charged in the City of Bell scandal.
Campbell Tom Campbell was appointed Dean of the Fowler School of Law in February, 2011. He came to Chapman in January 2009 as a visiting Presidential Fellow. Prior to joining Chapman, he was the Bank of America Dean and Professor of Business from 2002 to 2008 at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Tom was a Professor of Law at Stanford University from 1987-2002; Associate Professor at Stanford, 1983-1987; a member of the United States Congress from 1989-1993 and 1995-2001; a member of the California State Senate from 1993-1995; and the director of the California Department of Finance from 2004-2005. He has a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago, and a JD, magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where he also served as a member of the board of editors of the Harvard Law Review. He was a law clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice Byron White, and to US Court of Appeals Judge George E. MacKinnon; a White House Fellow; executive assistant to the Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice; and, director of the Bureau of Competition at the Federal Trade Commission.
Chiang John Chiang was first elected in November 2006 to serve as Controller of the State of California, the ninth-largest economy in the world. He was elected to serve a second term in November 2010. In 2014, he was elected California State Treasurer. Since taking office, Mr. Chiang not only made spending decisions more transparent and accountable to the public, but also aggressively weeded out waste, fraud, and mismanagement of taxpayer monies. His auditing programs as Controller identified nearly $8.5 billion in misspent public funds, self-dealing, unlawful taxes, and other abuses of the public trust. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, he was born in New York and later graduated with honors, holding a degree in Finance from the University of South Florida and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
Compton John Compton joined the Chapman University faculty in 2011 after completing his Ph.D. at UCLA.  His research and teaching interests include constitutional law, American political thought, and the U.S. Congress.  Dr. Compton’s articles and book reviews have appeared in the Review of Politics, American Political Thought, and the Law and Politics Book Review.  His first book, The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution, was published by Harvard University Press in 2014.  In 2012, his dissertation was awarded the annual dissertation prize of the Law and Society Association.  Prior to beginning graduate study in political science, he worked as a legislative aide to a member of Congress.
Cooley Steve Cooley served as the 41st District Attorney of Los Angeles County.  With more than 2,000 employees, including roughly 1,000 prosecutors and nearly 300 investigators, the L.A. County D.A.’s Office is the largest local prosecutorial office in the country. Mr. Cooley was a career prosecutor.  He joined the office in 1973 as a law clerk and rose through the ranks.  Nearly three decades later, he was elected District Attorney in 2000 by a landslide.  He was overwhelmingly re-elected four years later.  In 2008, he became the first Los Angeles County District Attorney is 70 years to be re-elected to a third consecutive term. A graduate of Cal State Los Angeles – where he was twice elected Student Body President – Mr. Cooley later attended the University of Southern California Law Center.  He finished first in his criminal law class.  While studying at USC, Mr. Cooley joined the Los Angeles Police Department’s Reserve Officer Program in February 1972. 
Frederickson H. George Frederickson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas.  He was the President of ASPA in 1978-79.  During the 2003-2004 academic year he was the John G. Winant Visiting Professor of American Government at the University of Oxford and a Fellow at Balliol College.  He is President Emeritus of Eastern Washington University.  He has received the Gaus, Waldo, Levine, and Distinguished Research awards.  He is the Founding Editor of the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory and the co-author of Measuring the Performance of the Hollow State, The Public Administration Theory Primer, and The Adapted City:  Institutional Dynamics and Structural Change.   In 1990 he served as a Distinguished Fulbright Lecturer in the Republic of Korea.  He has lectured and consulted in the Republic of Korea on governmental ethics, democratic reform, and higher education.  He is a 1998 recipient of the Order of Diplomatic Service medal from the Republic of Korea.  Frederickson is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and a past member of the NAPA Board of Directors.
Garcia Cristina Garcia was elected in November 2012 and re-elected in 2014, to represent and serve California’s 58th Assembly District. She is currently part of the leadership team of California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, acting as the Assistant Majority Floor Leader. She was also elected by her peers as Vice-Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus. Assemblymember Garcia is also a member of the following Assembly committees: Government Organization, Judiciary, Water, Parks and Wildlife, Natural Resources and Utilities and Commerce. As an educator for thirteen years, prior to joining the Assembly, Cristina Garcia has taught and mentored thousands of young people and been a strong role model for young women by encouraging their interest in mathematics at many levels. She has been a tutor to elementary school students, a  high school mathematics teacher, worked with the Los Angeles Community College District to help students returning to college and has taught statistics at the University of Southern California. Cristina has been a tireless local and statewide leader for higher ethical standards in government and a passionate advocate on issues concerning Women and Children.
Gottlieb Jeff Gottlieb is a senior writer at the Los Angeles Times. He shared the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Reporting in 2011 for uncovering corruption in the city of Bell, which led to the conviction of seven city officials, new legislation and an increased focus on the salaries of public officials. He also received the George Polk Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal and the Selden Ring Award, among others. He previously received a George Polk Award for uncovering Stanford University’s questionable spending of federal  funds when he worked for the San Jose Mercury News. As a result of his stories, Congress held hearings, Stanford’s president resigned and new federal regulations were put into law. Jeff has written articles for Mother Jones, the Nation, Time, the Village Voice and L.A. Weekly, among others. He received a B.A. in sociology from Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., where he recently was given the Distinguished Alumni Award, and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University. 
Hogen Tom Hogen-Esch, along with Terry Christensen, is the author of Local Politics: A Practical Guide to Governing at the Grassroots (M.E. Sharpe 2006). He has also published articles in California Journal of Politics and Policy (2011), A Companion History to Los Angeles (2010), Urban Affairs Review (2006; 2001), California Politics and Policy (June 2004), and California Policy Issues Annual (March 2003). He is the author of “Failed State: Political Corruption and the Collapse of Democracy in Bell, California.” California Journal of Politics and Policy 2011. His Ph.D. dissertation, "Recapturing Suburbia: Urban Secession and the Politics of Growth in Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle" explored issues of governance, social movements, and urban fragmentation. From 1997-1999, he held a staff position for the Los Angeles Elected Charter Reform Commission.
Mathews Joe Mathews is California and Innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, a Los Angeles-based ideas exchange that combines daily humanities journalism and live events. He writes the syndicated Connecting California column for Zócalo and 30 media outlets around California. Joe also serves as a professor of practice at Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs, as fellow at ASU’s Center for Social Cohesion, and as co-president, with Bruno Kaufmann, of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy – which brings together academics, journalists, activists and other experts on initiative, referenda, and new forms of deliberative and participatory democracy. Joe is co-author, with Mark Paul, of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California Press, 2010). His previous book was The People’s Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy (PublicAffairs, 2006), an account of Governor Schwarzenegger’s first term.
Meek Jack W. Meek is a University of La Verne Academy Professor and Professor of Public Administration at the College of Business and Public Management at the University of La Verne where he serves as Director of the Master of Public Administration Program. Professor Meek offers courses in research methods and collaborative public management. His research focuses on metropolitan governance including the emergence of administrative connections and relationships in local government, regional collaboration and partnerships, policy networks and citizen engagement. Professor Meek has over forty academic publications. Jack has co-edited books on business improvement districts and intergovernmental relations as well as co-authored a book on governance networks. Jack serves on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Organizational Theory and Behavior, Journal of Globalization Studies, Forum for Social Economics and Social Agenda.
Moodian Michael A. (Mike) Moodian (www.moodian.com) has served as an adjunct faculty member at Chapman University since 2007. He is currently an associate professor of social science at Chapman-affiliated Brandman University and a writing instructor at Chapman’s College of Educational Studies. Mike codirected the 2010 State of Orange County Survey and edited a graduate textbook titled Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence (Sage, 2009). He has been a guest op-ed contributor on social and political issues for publications such as the Orange County Register, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Daily News, Honolulu Advertiser, Riverside Press Enterprise, and La Opinión.
Rodgers Jennifer Rodgers is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School (CAPI). CAPI is the first center of its kind, and focuses particularly on corruption at the municipal level, and on bridging the gap between corruption scholars and practitioners.  As executive director, Ms. Rodgers leverages her extensive experience in litigation and public corruption. Prior to joining CAPI, Ms. Rodgers served as a federal prosecutor at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York where she worked on a wide variety of federal criminal matters and conducted numerous jury trials, including in cases involving terrorism, organized crime, public corruption, and narcotics; she also briefed and argued nearly two dozen appeals before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Ms. Rodgers also held numerous supervisory positions at the U.S. Attorney's Office, including Deputy Chief Appellate Attorney, Chief of the Organized Crime Unit, and Chief of the General Crimes Unit.  Prior to her work at the U.S. Attorney's Office, Ms. Rodgers worked as a litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and as a law clerk to the late Honorable Stanley A. Weigel of the United States District Court in San Francisco. 
Saleh Ali Saleh was one of the co-founders of BASTA, the group that led the recall effort in Bell. He is currently a member of Bell's city council. Not only was he born in Bell, but he attended local schools and is a proud Eagle and graduate from Bell High School. Saleh grew up playing sports in the local parks and would often be found playing baseball and football along Brompton Avenue with neighborhood kids. Today Saleh shares his love for sports with his sons; they are regulars at the school’s football and basketball games. The Southeast is also where he learned his strong business sense. In the 70s, his parents immigrated from Southern Lebanon to the United States chasing the American Dream and they settled in Bell, raised 3 sons and started a successful business. After high school, Saleh followed in his father’s footsteps and dedicated himself to growing the family business. Today Saleh and his brothers co-manage a successful wholesale and retail clothing business that includes a chain of apparel stores throughout the southeast area.
Sforza Teri Sforza covers local government for the Orange County Register. She came to The Register in 1993, and has done everything from features to investigations. Teri birthed the OC Watchdog column aiming to keep a critical (but good-humored) eye on governments and nonprofits, large and small. She contributed to the OCR's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of fertility fraud at UC Irvine, covered what was then the largest municipal bankruptcy in America‘s history. She has won numerous journalistic awards, and is an author, documentary filmmaker and mom in her spare time. She decided to harness the power of the moving image to help bring her stories to life, earned her M.F.A. from UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, and has made some documentaries, including the OCR's first: "The Boy Monk," a story that was also told as a series in the print OCR.
Smoller Fred Smoller is an Associate Professor of Political Science and has been on the Chapman faculty since 1983. Fred Smoller is the organizer of this conference. He received his Ph.D. from Indiana University. His major area of interest is American politics, with an emphasis on state and local government, citizen engagement, and public administration. In 2010, two of his graduate students collected data for a ground breaking salary study that that exposed salary levels of some public employees that many considered egregious. The ensuing City of Bell scandal focused much attention, some positive and some negative, on Dr. Smoller and his two students. Dr. Smoller’s students were interviewed numerous times on national television and testified in front of Sacramento legislators. Their research set in motion a public discussion about local government that led to the passage of  transparency legislation. The students' efforts were recognized by Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, State Senator Lou Correa,  Assemblyman Chris Norby, Publicceo.com, and The Orange County Register. 
Spertus James W. Spertus is an experienced trial lawyer who has been litigating cases in federal and state courts for more than 23 years.  He has won dozens of jury trials and appeals in federal and state courts.  He is the managing partner at Spertus, Landes & Umhofer, LLP in Los Angeles, which is a 10-lawyer firm comprised of trial lawyers specializing in state and federal trials and appeals.  Before opening the firm in 2006, Mr. Spertus spent eight years as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney's Office, Criminal Division, for the Central District of California.  Prior to joining the United States Attorney’s Office, Mr. Spertus spent nearly five years at Irell & Manella, LLP after clerking for the Honorable Procter Hug, Jr. on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.   Mr. Spertus has been selected for inclusion in Southern California Super Lawyers each year from 2009 through 2015, and for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America each year from 2012 through 2015.  Mr. Spertus earned his law degree from the University of Southern California Law Center in 1991, where he was Order of the Coif (Top 10%), Phi Kappa Phi (Top 5%), and Managing Editor of the Southern California Law Review.
Stahl Ken Stahl teaches Land Use, Real Property, and Local Government Law at Chapman University Fowler School of Law, and is the director of the Environmental, Land Use, and Real Estate Law certificate program. His scholarly work focuses on local politics and the relationship between the local political process and judicial doctrine in land use and local government law. His research combines doctrinal analysis with insights from disciplines including urban sociology, geography, economics, and the humanities. Professor Stahl's works have appeared in journals including The University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and Cardozo Law Review, among others. He was selected as a participant at the 2012 Junior Faculty Forum at Harvard Law School. Professor Stahl has also been named Professor of the Year at Fowler School of Law. Before joining Fowler, Professor Stahl spent four years as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York. Prior to that, he worked as a Trial Attorney for the United States Department of Justice, Office of Constitutional Torts, and as an Associate at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter. Professor Stahl earned a B.A. with Highest Honors and Highest Distinction from the University of Michigan, and a JD from Yale Law School. 
Taylor Anthony R. Taylor, Partner - Aleshire & Wynder, LLP was lead litigation counsel and argued appeals for the City of Bell in People ex rel. Harris v. Rizzo (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 921 (allowing recovery against former city officials after Attorney General’s lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court) and City of Bell v. Superior Court (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 236 (holding that Robert Rizzo was not entitled to payment of his legal fees for his defense of criminal and civil litigation against him under his contract with the City). Mr. Taylor also handled professional negligence claims for the City of Bell against its former city attorney firm and former city auditor and recovered a combined total of $5.5 Million for the City of Bell in those professional negligence matters. Additionally, Mr. Taylor argued at all seven criminal restitution hearings for the City of Bell to obtain restitution awards against the convicted former officials.  The Court awarded Bell approximately $8.8 Million in restitution against Robert Rizzo, $8.2 Million in restitution against Angela Spaccia and approximately $1 Million combined against all of the convicted former Bell City Council members, all payable to the City of Bell. Mr. Taylor graduated with a B.S. from the University of Southern California, summa cum laude and class valedictorian of the School of Public Administration in 1997.  Continuing at USC, he received his J.D. from USC Law School in 2000.
Willmore Doug Willmore was selected in June 2012 to be City Manager to lead the rebuilding of the City of Bell from the devastating scandal of several years ago. Prior to that, Mr. Willmore was the City Manager of El Segundo, CA, where he dealt with the Chevron tax rate issues that played out on the front page of the LA Times. Before coming to California, he was the Chief Administrative Officer of Salt Lake County, UT, one of only 17 counties in the United States that enjoyed an AAA rating from all three rating agencies. He recently was hired as the new city manager for Rancho Palos Verdes. Before moving to the public sector, Mr. Willmore was the Chief Executive Officer of Reference Pathology Services.  He was also a long-time organization consultant working with Fortune 50 companies on producing breakthrough performance. His clients included Lucent Technologies, Bell Atlantic, Proctor & Gamble, and Pac Bell. He has a BS in Public Administration from George Mason University and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Utah.

+ - Media Coverage

The following articles cover the upcoming Bell conference. For a comprehensive look at the media coverage of the Bell scandal from 2010-2013 please visit our Bell media collection.

OC Weekly
By Matt Coker
Come to Chapman for the Bell Scandal, Stay for Shots at/of "Jabba the Corrupt" Robert Rizzo

Chapman University
By Mary Platt
Chapman University Revisits the City of Bell Scandal in Day-Long Conference on February 19

Chapman University
By Dawn Bonker
Poli sci professor puts city of Bell corruption scandal under the microscope

LA Times
By Los Angeles Times Staff
Timeline Bell: ‘Corruption on Steroid'

Orange County Register
By Teri Sforza
Secrets cloud contract spending

City of Bell Scandal

Wilkinson College Blog
By Laura Silva
The City of Bell Scandal Revisited: Feb. 19

Voice of OC
By Thy Vo
Keeping City Hall Accountable: Reflections on the Bell Scandal

Voice of OC
By Mike Moodian
Moodian: Bell Disaster Has the Ingredients of What Can Save Southern California

The Sacramento Bee
By Joe Matthews
We need to learn the right lessons from Bell to prevent corruption

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Bell Scandal in the Media

In advance of the upcoming conference, we have compiled a comprehensive look at the media coverage of the Bell scandal from 2010-2013 in our Bell media collection.
  • Featured
  • News
  • Events