In 2006, Bell spent more than $1 million on a law firm that employed Rizzo's soon-to-be second wife, attorney Eugenia Chiang, during three months of that year, city records show. And he had a horse-owning partnership with Dennis Tarango, a private contractor who serves as Bell's planning director, according to racetrack listings.
Tarango did not return calls from The Times.
Short and rotund, the 56-year-old Rizzo took to quoting tough-guy lines from "The Sopranos," and tolerated no challenges to his expanding authority at City Hall, Bell insiders say.
"He likes to be in control," said former Councilman Victor Bello, who told of quarreling with Rizzo over the Werrlein deal and other matters before stepping down last year.
"You don't talk back to him — that's the way it goes," Bello said.
People acquainted with him through racing, however, describe a very different Rizzo. They say he is a friendly and unassuming man who cherishes his horses more than he does the modest purses they win.
"He impressed me as being a very caring person," said Mary Lou Griffin, a Buckley, Wash., thoroughbred breeder who took on one of Rizzo's mares, Peter's Jewel, for foaling and raised a couple of its offspring.
Washington horse trainer Mike Chambers said Rizzo is "not flamboyant in any direction." The two had just been out to dinner, and Chambers paid.
"You'd never know he had a cent," Chambers said.
Bell workers say Rizzo often was kind to his subordinates, inquiring after their families, granting them leaves to tend to sick relatives and extending them city reimbursements for tuition. "He could act like he was your father," said one employee, who requested anonymity because she does not want to be associated with Rizzo.
Others say they feel betrayed. George Bass was one of the former Bell council members who hired Rizzo in 1993, at a salary of $72,000, which the city considered a bargain.
"I don't know what happened to the Bob Rizzo I knew," Bass said. "I am angry."
He said their relationship soured after Rizzo shrugged off Bass' objections to a pending property deal by bragging that he had the other four council members in his corner. Tensions between them worsened after he cast the lone vote against a raise for Rizzo, Bass said.
Over the ensuing years, Rizzo spent less and less time on the job and grew guarded about city finances, holding fewer meetings on the budget, say Gonzalez and Werrlein.
"In retrospect, you start seeing that everything was a secret," Gonzalez said.
Rizzo's trips to the secluded, 10-acre ranch in Washington became more frequent, city employees and his neighbors say. The spread unfolds around a simple but elegant main house and has well-groomed paddocks and an elaborate exercise circle for the horses. It's a short ride from Emerald Downs, where Rizzo's steeds compete when they're not running at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley and occasionally elsewhere.
After a reporter knocked on the front door of the ranch house on a recent morning, Rizzo initially refused to answer, staying behind closed shutters. Then he emerged and barked, "You're trespassing."
A moment later, he apologized and said his lawyer had prohibited any interviews.
Standing barefoot in black shorts and T-shirt, near a knee-high jockey statue with "Rizzo" painted on it, he complained of being vilified after toiling so hard for Bell, a job he says ended his first marriage and caused him to gain 150 pounds.
"I gotta tell you, I've been raped by newspaper," he said.