Eight officials from an impoverished Californian town were arrested Tuesday on charges of paying themselves vast salaries at the expense of local taxpayers, prosecutors said.
The eight, including former municipal manager of the town of Bell just south of Los Angeles, stand accused of using roughly 5.5 million dollars of public money to benefit themselves, through illicit loans.
"This was calculated greed and theft accomplished by greed and secrecy," said District Attorney Steve Cooley, after the officials were arrested mostly without incident.
Investigators said they used a battering ram at the home of Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 63, after he refused to come to the door. "There was, let's say slowness in coming to his door," said Cooley.
Bell is a small working class Latino suburban town about six miles (10 kilometers) south of central Los Angeles. It is one of the poorest municipalities in Los Angeles county.
But while local people went hungry, town manager Robert Rizzo paid himself 787,000 dollars last year -- nearly twice as much as US President Barack Obama -- even though his town only has 38,000 residents, prosecutors allege.
Police chief Randy Adams was earning 457,000 dollars a year, almost double what the head of the Los Angeles Police Department gets, while Rizzo's ex-assistant, Angela Spaccia, was on 336,000 dollars a year.
Last week California attorney general Edmund Brown announced legal action "to recover the excess salaries that Bell officials awarded themselves and to ensure their future pensions are reduced to a reasonable amount."
The officials were charged with fraud, civil conspiracy, waste of public funds and breach of fiduciary duty.