LOS ANGELES – One of four City Council members charged with illegally paying hugely inflated salaries to themselves and other officials to run a blue-collar Los Angeles suburb resigned Monday, hours before the council was scheduled to hold its first meeting since the members were marched off to jail in handcuffs.
Bell Councilman Luis Artiga told The Associated Press he was resigning immediately in "the best interests of the people of Bell, my family and the church."
Artiga, who is a local pastor, was one of eight current and former Bell officials charged last month with misappropriating $5.5 million in public funds. He is free on bail pending an Oct. 21 arraignment.
Another of the arrested council members, George Mirabal, remained in jail, leaving only three members available to attend Monday's meeting.
"We're still planning on having it," said interim City Attorney Jamie Casso, adding that a minimum of three members must attend for the council to legally meet.
Artiga, Mirabal, Mayor Oscar Hernandez and Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo were arrested last month, accused of taking part in a scam that bilked taxpayers so they could pay themselves and others exorbitant salaries.
Each of the four arrested council members was making about $100,000 a year for their part-time service. The only council member not arrested, Lorenzo Velez, was making only about $8,000 a year.
Also arrested last month were former City Manager Robert Rizzo, former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and former council members George Cole and Victor Bello.
When numerous perks like vacation, insurance and other benefits were added to his $787,637 salary, Rizzo's total compensation package from Bell was about $1.5 million a year.
Artiga, who joined the council two years ago, has denied any wrongdoing but acknowledged he didn't pay enough attention to what was going on and shouldn't have accepted his large salary.
"I know that with the help of God, people will see that justice will prevail. People will see the truth," he said.
Artiga, pastor at the Bell Community Church, had previously supported a campaign to recall himself and the other three from office, even signing his own recall petition. He declined to resign at that time, however, saying that would allow the remaining council members to appoint his successor.
His attorney, George Mgdesyan, told the Los Angeles Times, which first reported Artiga's resignation, that the pastor now needs to focus on the charges against him.
"We completely welcome his resignation and we think it's a step in the right direction," Cristina Garcia, a spokeswoman the group leading the recall, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, told The Associated Press.
Garcia said her group is urging the other three council members to follow Artiga's example and also resign. She added that they shouldn't appoint a replacement for Artiga.
"There's no trust in any of those council members' decisions, so I think anyone they appoint would be viewed by the community as antagonistic," she said.