Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley says his county’s scandal-plagued, predominantly Hispanic immigrant cities have afforded opportunities for criminal gangs and drug-trafficking organizations and created a climate ripe for political corruption.
“If I was a drug dealer and I didn’t want to be interfered with, I’d move to a city where I could exploit dysfunctional city governments, corrupt the police or be left alone in a neighborhood where people are not as active in monitoring their communities,” said Mr. Cooley, the Republican candidate for California attorney general. “That;s where I’d want my dope house.”
He made the comments in response to questions from The Washington Times in connection with recent reports of exorbitant salaries for municipal officials in Bell, Calif. - a city at the center of a gang-infested slew of cities in the Los Angeles suburbs that serve as a transshipment point for narcotics from Mexico and Colombia.
Mr. Cooley acknowledged that an area of Los Angeles and surrounding counties is a hub for narcotics distribution and well-connected gangs.
He said he saw the “possibility” that gangs and drug trafficking organizations could seek to influence politicians and government officials in these cities along the Interstate 710 corridor, many of which have been targets of his corruption probes. But he stopped short of saying their influence has been felt on local politics.
“We’re not seeing that yet. Though we have seen a prison gang controlling street gangs, we haven’t seen direct evidence of drug cartels controlling city halls,” he said.
Mr. Cooley said the FBI is investigating political corruption in cities that border Bell - most notably the small city of Cudahy to the south. On the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry, law enforcement officials familiar with the Cudahy probe said that the investigation has expanded to include suspected gang and cartel connections to Cudahy city officials.
The three-term district attorney won office in 2000 on a pledge to clean up municipal corruption throughout Los Angeles County, and by all accounts has done more to prosecute fraud, waste and abuse than his immediate predecessors.
But in light of the Bell salary scandal, in which public officials were found to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual salaries, questions remain about the effectiveness of his office in fighting corruption.
The Public Integrity Division, or PID, was a hallmark of the Cooley administration in 2000, when he was elected in a landslide over unpopular incumbent Gil Garcetti, driven from office in part because of his handling of the O.J. Simpson prosecution.
Since then, the PID unit has filed more than 50 cases against officials in more than 30 of Los Angeles Countys 88 cities, on charges ranging from embezzlement to campaign finance violations to shoplifting.
In the immediate aftermath of news reports on the salaries scandal, Mr. Cooley’s top deputy in charge of public corruption seemed dismissive of the incident in an e-mail addressing a constituent concern.
“The city council of Bell has the authority to pay their employees any amount of money that they deem appropriate and this office has no authority to question those decisions,” David Demerjian wrote to a local resident last month in an e-mail obtained by The Times. “Neither does the attorney general or the state Senate or the state assembly or the governor or the president of the United States.”
As protests and national media attention mounted, Bell officials stepped down and the city cut council members’ salaries. Amid the controversy, Mr. Cooley’s office and California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democratic candidate for governor, launched still-widening probes.View Entire Story
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Jeffrey Anderson is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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