After more digging, The Los Angeles Times publishes yet another devastating story:
The city of Bell extracted tens of thousands of dollars from plumbers, carpet cleaners, even people scavenging for bottles and cans, by seizing vehicles for alleged code violations and then pressuring the owners to pay arbitrary fines. In hundreds of cases, city officials created documents that looked like official court papers declaring individuals were making a payment to the city as part of a "civil compromise." Normally, such cases would be reviewed by a judge to ensure that they had been settled fairly. But the vast majority of these cases do not appear to have been presented to a court. Times reporters reviewed 164 cases, roughly one-third of those located in the city's records, and found only three that were filed. All three were dismissed.
The practice took place for at least eight years until The Times inquired about it recently. Interim Chief Administrative Officer Pedro Carrillo, who said he had been unaware of the scheme, has now stopped it and said code enforcement officials were no longer impounding vehicles. He also said he is looking into allegations that some confiscated property disappeared.