While municipal corruption and mismanagement cases have led to millions of dollars being stolen from city coffers, the biggest toll is often the enormous bills from attorneys who are paid to clean up the mess, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of municipal legal bills across California. “Unfortunately, that’s the double-headed monster whenever you have wrongdoing,” said Jose Pulido, the new city manager of Temple City, where legal costs roughly doubled after the mayor and other officials were convicted of soliciting bribes from a developer.
In some cases, the legal bills continue years after officials accused of corruption have been ousted or jailed, leaving the affected cities struggling beneath a heavy burden. In Bell, legal expenses rose by at least $1 million — about 6% of last year’s general fund budget — in the year after the former city administrator and other officials were arrested for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from the city by giving themselves exorbitant salaries and benefits. The city attorney projected that higher-than-normal legal costs stemming from the scandal could continue for two to five more years. In San Diego, outside legal expenses rose from $1.4 million in 2005 to $10.9 million in 2009 after city officials were criminally charged in two scandals, dubbed pension-gate and stripper-gate.