LOCAL L.A. Now

Robert Rizzo must come clean on Bell corruption, activists say

If Robert Rizzo wants to "make amends" to the city of Bell -- as his attorney said Thursday -- then members of a local activist group are expecting him to disclose more information about corruption in the city and others who may have participated in it.

"If this is indeed true, and not just a legal tactic to avoid civil liability, then we will determine Mr. Rizzo’s sincerity based on his actions and full disclosure of the extent of his corruption and those of Bell elected officials, city administrators, and private contractors that were participants in evil deeds against the people of Bell," BASTA, or the Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse, said in a statement released after Rizzo agreed to plea no contest to 69 felony charges.

"We await Mr. Rizzo providing deeds to match his words."

Members of the group, which was formed after news of Rizzo's $800,000 annual salary rocked the city, said Bell continues to feel the "negative impact" as they struggle to reform governance and balance the budget.

The city is still paying legal and administrative costs related to the arrest of Rizzo, his assistant, Angela Spaccia, and six former City Council members.

BASTA co-founder Cristina Garcia, now an Assembly member representing Bell Gardens, also urged Rizzo to speak out.

"I urge Mr. Rizzo to shed light on all those that participated in corruption in the city of Bell," Garcia said. "The public needs to understand how deeply rooted the corruption is in order to remove the offenders and direct their energy to rebuilding their government."

On Thursday, days before jury selection was scheduled to begin in his trial, Rizzo made a surprise appearance in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom and pleaded no contest to the 69 felony charges of misappropriating public funds, hiding and falsifying records, perjury and other crimes.

Prosecutors said Rizzo, Bell's former city administrator, would be sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison. His attorney said Rizzo would probably be required to pay $1 million to $3.2 million in restitution to the city.

Rizzo initiated the plea himself, and it was not negotiated with prosecutors, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said. A no-contest plea has the same effect in criminal court as a guilty plea.

Rizzo's lawyer, James W. Spertus, said the plea is part of an effort to resolve not only the district attorney's charges but a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general's office and a federal criminal probe into whether Rizzo conspired to commit tax fraud. He said Rizzo is cooperating with authorities and claims that Spaccia, the former assistant city manager, was the architect of the corruption.

"Mr. Rizzo wants to make amends to the citizens of Bell for engaging in wrongdoing," Spertus said. "This is an effort to accept responsibility. He's sorry about it."

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Twitter: @gottliebjeff

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

 

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