Ex-Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo Pleads No Contest in Corruption Case

Robert Rizzo was accused of paying himself $800,000 per year in the small city of Bell

The former city manager at the center of a city government corruption scandal in the community of Bell pleaded no contest to all charges, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office.

Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 counts. Judge Kathleen Kennedy indicated a sentencing range of 10-12 years.  Rizzo will also be liable for restitution..

"Although we were prepared to go to trial and felt confident we could convict Mr. Rizzo of all charges, we are pleased he chose to admit his guilt and accept full responsibility for the irreparable harm he caused the people of Bell," LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement.

The plea was not a negotiated settlement, but came on Rizzo's initiative.

"He's accepting responsibility," said James Spertus, Rizzo's attorney.  The amount of restitution has not been determined, but Spertus expects it will be somewhere between one and three million dollars.

The plea comes only days before jury selection Monday for the public corruption trial of Rizzo and do-defendant Angela Spaccia, former assistant administrator for the city 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Rizzo's request last month for a change of venue to northern California had been denied.  

Spaccia's request for separate trials had also been denied--though now Rizzo's plea means she will in fact be the sole defendant facing the jury.   Spaccia's attorney Harland Braun has indicated her defense would be that the wrongdoing was Rizzo's, not hers. 

Rizzo is now prepared to testify against Spaccia, according to Spertus.

Unlike Rizzo, Spaccia will not enter a plea, Braun said, and is not intimidated by the prospect of Rizzo testifying.  "If Rizzo testifies honestly, that will exonnerate her," Braun said.

But Spertus made it clear Rizzo's plea does not mean he's ready to accept all the blame.  "He's not going to stand by while she blames him for her own misconduct."

Revelation of the exorbitant salaries collected by Rizzo and Spaccia, first reported by the Los Angeles Times in 2010, led to outrage among residents, who packed meetings at Bell City Hall to call for the  officials' resignations.  Rizzo took in excess of one million dollars some years.  Spaccia received more than $400,000 a year.  The prosecution contended Rizzo wrote his own employment contracts that were never approved by the Bell City Council.


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It was also alleged Rizzo improperly authorized loans to city employees 

Five other former Bell officials--all elected members of the City Council--have previously been convicted of  misappropriating public funds. Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and ex-City  Council members George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, George Cole and Victor Bello are  also awaiting a retrial on charges on which the original jury could not reach verdicts.

Hernandez, Jacobo and Mirabal were each convicted of five counts of  misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Cole was  convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while Bello was convicted  of four counts and acquitted of four others.

The panel completely exonnerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12  counts against him.

Rizzo is scheduled to return to court March 12 for sentencing.    Credits for time served can cut a sentence in half.  So if Rizzo is sentenced to 10-12 years, it is possible he would be released in 5-6 years.

Rizzo has also been the subject of a federal probe into possible income tax violations, Spertus confirmed.  Rizzo's plea in Superior Court means  that if federal charges are brought, and he pleads to them, the sentences could be serving simultaneously, rather than consecutively, Spertus said. He expects that most of the time would be served in a federal prison.

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