Bell, California is not just the Most Corrupt Town in America; it's also one of the poorest towns in L.A. County. Which makes it all the more fucked up that officials were extorting regular working people with bogus "code violations."
The LA Times simply cannot stop finding new and more outrageous examples of the corruption of Bell's city officials (most of whom are now facing serious criminal charges for stealing from the town to pay themselves exorbitant salaries). We've already heard about Bell's Mafia-like protection racket that the city used to extort local businesses. Now comes news of a longstanding practice of hitting regular working folks with "code violations," which were accompanied by completely arbitrary fines and never reviewed by a judge, as required.
Bell's standard M.O. was to give someone a code violation, confiscate their vehicle, and demand a fine in order to return that vehicle. Extortion, basically—designed to generate cash to pay city officials some of the highest salaries anywhere in the nation. According to the LAT, "Those cited include a husband and wife passing out handbills, a taxi driver dropping off a customer, a woman selling mangoes and a homeless man picking up bottles." For example:
Bell resident Alfredo Moreno, 73, was laid off three years ago from his job as a packer at a Norwalk market. Since then, he has collected bottles and cans to survive, waking up at dawn to scour streets and alleys. On a good day he makes between $10 and $15.
In April, he was scavenging when a code enforcement officer cited him for "unauthorized collection" of recyclable material, records show. His 1999 Ford van was impounded as evidence.
Moreno paid a $50 fine, and $500 to get his van back. The entire process was flagrantly improper. The city's head of code enforcement at the time made $421,402 a year.