He is a testament to the undocumented immigrant student’s hopes and dreams of reaching the summit to change the world.
Rubén Vives, a 32-year-old Los Angeles Times reporter, was awarded the Gold Medal for Public Service, the most prestigious of the Pulitzer Prizes, on April 18, for his work with colleague Jeff Gotlieb exposing corruption in the city of Bell, Calif. Their investigative work led to the indictment of eight city officials on corruption charges.
In a column for Orange Coast Magazine, Shawn Hubler writes about her relationship to Vives and his mother, who once worked as a nanny for Hubler. “Her son was a 17-year-old high school student then. Quiet. Polite. Smart, too — college-smart, we’d tell the nanny, who’d just smile. Proud, we thought.”
At that young age, Vives faced deportation because of his illegal immigration status. He was brought to California from Guatemala by his mother at age six. Hubler, a former Times employee, helped him gain legal permission to remain in the United States.
Enrolling in California State University-Fullerton, Vives began working at the Times as a copy messenger and later in a clerical job. Three years ago, he was given a shot at the Homicide Report, one of the most exhaustive jobs at the Times, according to coworker James Rainey. Rainey adds in an article for the Times that this is where Vives, among so much death, was “born” as a reporter.
Last July Vives and Gotlieb, 57, teamed to cover Bell, a 90 percent-Latino town of 37,000 residents. When they asked to interview city administrator Robert Rizzo, they were denied a meeting. The pair pushed on and uncovered that Rizzo was the highest-paid city administrator in the nation. His salary was $787,637.
Unbeknownst to the taxpaying public, other Bell officials were also being over-generously compensated. Police Chief Randy Adams received a $457,000 annual salary to run a department employing 33 officers and 46 civilian personnel. A few miles away, Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck was paid nearly $100,000 less directing a department of 12,899 civilian personnel and 9,959 officers. Rizzo’s assistant, Angela Spaccia, was paid $376,288, approaching President Barack Obama’s annual wage of $400,000.
Other Times’ journalists who contributed to the story’s research and development included Robert López, Paloma Esquivel, Héctor Becerra and with editing aid, former Hispanic Link reporter Efraín Hernández.
The exposé resulted in eight arrests, including Rizzo and Mayor Oscar Hernández. It also resulted in passage of a bill by the California legislature requiring cities to post their officials’ salaries online.
Editor’s note: This column was previously published on Hispanic Link News Service.