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New search warrants served as Bell corruption probe widens

The L.A. County district attorney's office searches the home of Eric Eggena, the city's former director of general services, and that of his wife. He has not been accused of wrongdoing.

February 24, 2011|By Jeff Gottlieb and Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • Eric Eggena, Bell's former director of general services, earned $421,402 a year. He was fired last year after his salary was made public.
Eric Eggena, Bell's former director of general services, earned… (Christina House, For the…)

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office served search warrants Wednesday at two homes connected to a former top Bell official, suggesting that the investigation into corruption in city government has expanded.

The searches centered on Eric Eggena, the city's former director of general services. Eggena was one of several top city officials who earned oversized salaries under the reign of former City Administrator Robert Rizzo. Eggena earned $421,402 a year and was fired last year after his salary was made public.

Rizzo and seven other current and former city officials have been charged with multiple counts of corruption. Eggena has not been accused of wrongdoing.

David Demerjian, head of the district attorney's public integrity unit, confirmed that the search warrants were served at Eggena's home and that of his wife. The couple are separated. Demerjian said the search warrants were sealed.

On Tuesday, district attorney's investigators showed up at Bell City Hall and inspected the hard drive from the computer that Eggena used when he worked there, according to two sources with knowledge of the event.

A man who answered the phone at Eggena's house hung up when asked for comment Wednesday.

While Eggena headed Bell's code enforcement operation, the city collected tens of thousands of dollars from small business owners and scavengers who were cited for violating city codes and pressured to pay arbitrary fines.

The Times found city officials created papers that looked like court documents telling alleged violators that they had to pay the city as part of a civil compromise. Although a judge was supposed to review these types of cases, the vast majority were never filed with the court.

The practice went on for eight years. Pedro Carrillo, Bell's interim chief administrative officer, killed the program after The Times revealed details about it this fall.

"It stinks, honestly," he said at the time.

Carrillo said in December that code enforcement officers told him Eggena took control of seized personal property and that the city doesn't know what happened to the items. Prosecutors said they have been looking into whether the property was disposed of improperly.

"All I can tell is that we did receive allegations that some of the property is unaccounted for," Demerjian said at the time.

Prosecutors accuse Rizzo and the other city officials of looting the city treasury of $5.5 million and providing illegal loans to more than 40 city employees, a Chevrolet dealer and a foundation run by a former council member.

The defendants have denied any wrongdoing.

The FBI also is investigating various allegations of civil rights violations, specifically whether Bell officials violated the civil rights of Latino residents by aggressively towing cars and charging residents exorbitant fees to get their vehicles back.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and California Department of Corporations are investigating whether Bell violated securities laws.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein and Jack Leonard contributed to this report.

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