Bell's Rizzo Ordered to Trial on Conflict-of-Interest Charge

The former Bell city manager already faced 50 charges in connection with the case

Wednesday, Mar 16, 2011  |  Updated 2:10 PM PDT
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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 23: Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo during his preliminary hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court February 23, 2011 in Los Angeles, California Rizzo was rushed to a local hospital Wednesday after experiencing chest pains during a lunch break in the ongoing court hearing that will determine whether he will stand trial for public corruption. (Photo by Irfan Khan-Pool/Getty Images)

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Former Bell chief administrative officer Robert Rizzo was ordered to stand trial on a conflict-of-interest charge, but a judge tossed out a charge of misappropriation of public funds.

At the conclusion of the third and final preliminary hearing in the Bell corruption scandal, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall said Rizzo hid his business relationship with Bell's privately contracted planning director, Dennis Tarango, on economic interest disclosure documents filed with the city each year.

"The fact that Mr. Rizzo did not disclose (the partnership) shows there is ample evidence he knew this cozy relationship with Mr. Tarango did create a conflict," Hall said.

Rizzo now stands charged with a total of 55 counts stemming from the alleged misappropriation of millions of dollars from the city's coffers.

In the most recent case, Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman said that in 2004, Rizzo and Tarango formed Golden Aggie Ranch Inc., a racehorse venture created as a tax write-off.

Prosecutors contend that during the period of their outside business partnership, Rizzo improperly steered at least $2.4 million in city business to Tarango's contracted companies.

In dismissing the misappropriation charge, Hall found that a Bell check made out to Tarango's TD Urban Planners firm and endorsed over in part to the Golden Aggie joint venture was handled by Tarango alone with no input from Rizzo.

Tarango, Hall said, "chose to split the deposit from that one check," and Rizzo "had nothing to do with it."

In announcing his decision to hold the 57-year-old Rizzo over for trial, Hall suggested that the defendant had committed six additional felony counts of perjury as a result of the financial disclosure documents.

Huntsman said outside court that his office would likely file those charges prior to Rizzo's March 30 arraignment.

Rizzo's attorney, James Spertus, had argued that the conflict-of- interest charge should be dismissed because even though his client and Tarango shared an investment concern, Rizzo never benefited financially from Tarango's job as Bell's planning director.

"There's nothing wrong with two friends having joint ownership of a couple of horses -- and that's what we have here," Spertus told Hall.

Rizzo and seven other former Bell leaders are charged with corruption.

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