Ring Leader of Bell, Calif. Corruption Scheme Gets 12 Years

Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 10:03 AM


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The former city manager of Bell, California, who ran a public corruption scheme that bilked the blue-collar community outside Los Angeles out of millions of dollars, was sentenced today to 12 years in state prison.

Robert Rizzo, 60, was also ordered to pay $8.8 million in restitution, according to a statement from the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. The state court sentencing today followed that of a separate federal tax fraud case two days ago, in which Rizzo received a 33-month sentence.

“Rizzo believed he was above the law,” Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in the statement. “His greed and total disregard for the hard-working people of Bell have lasting consequences.”

James Spertus, Rizzo’s lawyer, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the sentence.

Rizzo and seven other former city officials were arrested in September 2010 and accused of misappropriating more than $5.5 million. The Bell scandal, with Rizzo receiving almost $800,000 a year to run a city of 38,000, put the pay of municipal executives under scrutiny. The median salary for California’s city managers in 2009 was $187,728, according to the state controller’s office.

Bell, a southeastern suburb of Los Angeles, has five council members who serve part-time and select the city’s mayor from among themselves. From 2008 to 2012, median household income of the city’s residents was $36,654 and 28.5 percent of them lived below the poverty level, according to U.S. Census data. About 93 percent of the city’s population was Hispanic in 2010.

Rizzo last year pleaded no contest to misappropriating public funds and other charges. In addition to writing his own employment contracts and creating a secret pension fund that would have given him $8 million upon retirement, he made unauthorized loans to himself and his city underlings, according to the district attorney’s statement.

His assistant, Angela Spaccia, was convicted after a jury trial and sentenced to 11 years, eight months in prison. Five former city council members face as long as four years in prison for their part in the corruption scheme.

They were accused of getting paid almost $8,000 a month for attending municipal board meetings that never took place or lasted only a few minutes.

A 2010 state audit found that the city used at least $1.2 million in funds meant for low-income housing and maintaining local roads as a “self-indulgent slush fund” to pad salaries and cover unlawful expenses.

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