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Will Bell's Robert Rizzo finally speak?

We know his crimes – boosting his compensation to $1.5 million a year for managing the small working class city of Bell, and allowing the City Council and fellow administrators to similarly fleece taxpayers. We know his likely punishment – he pleaded no contest to 69 felony corruption charges last year and faces 10 to 12 years in prison, plus several million dollars in restitution.

Yet, we still don’t know why Robert Rizzo chose to rip off the city he was hired to manage. At least, not from his own mouth. Rizzo has never publicly spoken about the case, but that may change, Los Angeles Times reporter Jeff Gottlieb wrote

The attorney for Angela Spaccia, Rizzo’s former assistant, said he will subpoena Rizzo to testify during Spaccia’s sentencing later this month. In December, Spaccia was found guilty of 11 felony counts including misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and concealing public documents. Spaccia’s hope is that Rizzo’s comments might convince the judge to be lenient in her sentencing.

Of course, it’s unclear whether Rizzo’s testimony would help Spaccia. Both point to the other as the mastermind behind the inflated pay.

Nor is it clear whether Rizzo would shed any light on the crimes or his motive – beyond simple greed. An attorney for the city told The Times he would like Rizzo to take the stand in order to get more detail on how Bell officials crafted their scam.

“Don’t we all want to get to the bottom of what happened?” attorney Anthony Taylor asked.

Yes, we want to know what happened. But we’d also like to know why. Would Rizzo answer, for example, why his earlier pay of $200,000 wasn’t enough? How did he justify padding his paycheck when his employers (the citizens of Bell) were generally scraping by on far less? Why did the keeper of the city budget think it was OK to cut services while boosting his own pay? Would his answers help the public identify other thieves in suits? Or provide guidance on how to prevent future fleecings?

About 15 miles west of Bell, the Centinela Valley Union High School District Superintendent Jose Fernandez convinced the school board to approve a compensation package worth $663,000 last year, for overseeing four schools, the Daily Breeze has reported.

Fernandez this week said he would voluntarily give up some perks that boosted his pay. There’s no suggestion that Fernandez’s compensation package was illegal or developed in a shady way, but it was clearly too much. Why did an administrator – who had reportedly steered the district from bankruptcy and kept teacher salaries flat -- push for so much money? Why did the board approve it?

Maybe if Rizzo takes the stand, we’ll get a glimpse into the mind of a government official gone wrong.

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