Former Bell city administrator Robert Rizzo wants to "make amends to the citizens of Bell" and his no-contest plea to 69 public-corruption charges is the beginning, his attorney said Thursday.
Rizzo also plans to testify against his former second-in-command, Angela Spaccia, who is still facing trial on similar charges, according to his attorney, former federal prosecutor James Spertus.
“Mr. Rizzo wants to make amends to the citizens of Bell for engaging in wrongdoing,” Spertus said, “and we’ve been able to negotiate a fair and just outcome that will hopefully establish that Ms. Spaccia was the mastermind behind all the greed that led to the charges.”
Spertus said Thursday's plea is the first step to resolving three ongoing or potential cases against his client -- the corruption case brought by the Los Angeles County district attorney, which culminated in Rizzo's plea Thursday; a potential federal case charging conspiracy to commit tax fraud case; and a lawsuit by the state attorney general.
Rizzo's plea, which came just a week before jury selection was scheduled to begin in his criminal trial, came as a surprise.
Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said in a statement that Rizzo had agreed to serve 10 to 12 years in state prison, which she described as the largest sentence ever in a L.A. County public-corruption case.
“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,” Lacey said in a statement.
Five former Bell City Council members were found guilty of corruption charges earlier this year in a mixed verdict. One was acquitted.
Rizzo, who for 17 years served as Bell's chief administrative officer, is accused of falsifying public records, perjury, conspiracy, misappropriating public funds and conflict of interest. He was to go on trial with Spaccia, who faces 13 felony counts. She is employing a strategy similar to the council members': Blame Rizzo.
Danny Harber, a former councilman, said he was stunned by Rizzo's decision.
“I would have loved for him to go to trial so he could be exposed for what he was,” Harber said. “He was manipulative, a crook and most certainly a good liar -- you have to be to get away with all that.”
Harber said the announcement was at least good news for the city, which has been trying to recover from financial turmoil since the scandal broke in 2010.
Ali Saleh, a council member, said Rizzo’s plea is a hollow victory. He said he hopes that the judge gives Rizzo the maximum sentence and that Spaccia follows his footsteps.
“They took advantage of the community and they harmed us for many years,” Saleh said.
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