Robert Rizzo gets 33-month prison term for tax fraud

The city administrator who ruled the city of Bell during an era of widespread corruption was sentenced Monday to 33 months behind bars for tax fraud, the first of two prison terms he is expected to be handed this week.

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge is expected to add years more to Robert Rizzo's punishment for plundering the small town's treasury.

When Rizzo pleaded no contest in October to 69 corruption-related charges, Judge Kathleen Kennedy said she would sentence Rizzo to 10 to 12 years in prison, a term he would be allowed to serve concurrently with his federal sentence.

But in federal court Monday, U.S. District Judge George H. King ordered Rizzo to serve his sentences consecutively, saying that there shouldn't be "a bulk discount for criminal behavior."

Rizzo's attorney, James Spertus, insisted that King's order hadn't undermined his efforts to minimize his client's time behind bars and serve as much of the time as possible in a federal institution for nonviolent offenders, rather than a state prison where he would mix with violent felons.

Spertus said he hopes that Kennedy will sentence Rizzo to five years in prison because he had accepted responsibility by pleading no contest to all charges and had cooperated with authorities.

King also ordered Rizzo to pay $255,984 restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

Once the highest-paid municipal administrator in California, Rizzo became the face of the widespread corruption in Bell, lending city funds to colleagues and businesses, falsifying city records and misappropriating public funds.

When he was forced to resign in 2010, Rizzo had a total compensation package of roughly $1.5 million and was on track to become California's highest-paid public pensioner when he retired.

On Monday, King said Rizzo "was greedy and cheating the taxpayers of the U.S. ... after he had substantially cheated the citizens of Bell." He said the two cases were connected because Rizzo wouldn't have had the extra money to pay taxes on had he not been making such a lavish salary in the working-class town.

Dressed in the blue blazer and gray pants he has worn for nearly all of his court appearances, Rizzo passed on a chance to speak to the judge. Spertus said his client probably would address the court Wednesday when he is sentenced on the corruption charges.

Rizzo was ordered to surrender to federal authorities May 30.

Rizzo faced a maximum of eight years in prison and a $500,000 fine on the tax charges. Federal prosecutors had asked for 33 months.

In a sentencing memorandum, the U.S. attorney's office said Rizzo was "not satisfied with betraying the trust placed in him by the city and its residents, in an extraordinary display of greed, defendant also found it necessary to cheat the IRS."

Angela Spaccia, Bell's former assistant city manager, is mentioned prominently in the federal tax case but she has not been charged. Spaccia was sentenced last week to 11 years, eight months in prison for her role in the Bell scandal, and has been jailed since her conviction in December.

According to court documents, an accountant created "S" corporations for Rizzo and Spaccia in 2002 in order to create fake losses to lower their taxes.

From 2006 through 2009, Rizzo claimed illegal losses of $571,530 on his horse ranch outside Seattle, which he falsely said was rental property.

In 2009 and 2010, according to his plea agreement, Rizzo illegally paid more than $200,000 from his corporation for personal expenses, such as remodeling his home in Huntington Beach.

A court document also provided additional information on how Rizzo is now supporting himself and his family. According to the document, Rizzo's mother-in-law has lent him $675,000. In addition, he receives an annual pension of about $116,000 and has a 401(k)-style retirement account that once had a balance of more than $1 million.

Meanwhile, former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams has paid the city $214,714 to settle litigation with the city in a court-approved settlement. Adams, who was paid $457,000 annually, sued Bell for severance and to force the city to pay his legal fees. The city filed a cross-complaint asking him to return his excessive compensation.

Adams agreed to drop his suits, and he paid the city Friday.


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