Robert Rizzo, the former top administrator who oversaw an era of corruption in the small, working-class city of Bell, was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison Monday on tax fraud charges.
For Rizzo, the sentence is likely the first of two prison terms he will be handed this week. He returns to court Wednesday, when he is expected to be sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison on corruption-related charges.
He was also ordered to pay $256,000 in restitution to the federal government.
Federal prosecutors said Rizzo’s tax crimes were particularly “egregious” because he stole money as the city administrator in Bell and then turned around and cheated the federal government.
Rizzo "abused his position to fleece the City of Bell of hundreds of thousands of dollars that he paid himself in excessive salary -- monies that could have been spent for the benefit of the people of the city he served,” the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memorandum said. “But 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.”
Rizzo was accused of claiming more than $770,000 in phony losses, mostly tied to his sprawling horse ranch in Washington state, which he wrongly claimed was rental property. He also was accused of claiming that $120,000 in construction work on his posh Huntington Beach home was used for his horse ranch.
Once the highest paid municipal administrator in California, and likely the nation, Rizzo became the face of the widespread corruption in Bell, doling out city funds to colleagues and business interests, falsifying public 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 the highest paid public pensioner when he retired.
Facing 69 felony corruption counts, Rizzo elected to plead no contest last year and offered to help the prosecution in its case against the city’s former assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia.
Spaccia was sentenced to 11 years and eight months in state prison last week after being convicted of misappropriating public funds and other corruption-related crimes.