Bell trial: Robert Rizzo now the focus
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With the conviction of five former Bell council members on multiple corruption-related charges, the legal spotlight now shifts to Robert Rizzo – the man who served as the chief executive in the small, working-poor city.
Rizzo faces 69 counts, a ranging checklist of alleged wrong-doings – from misappropriating city funds to loaning out city money to friends, colleagues and a business owner.
While his fate is likely months away, defense attorneys in the trial of the former council members eagerly heaped all blame on Rizzo, who was fired in 2010 when his near-$800,000 salary and generous benefits package was revealed.
FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial The lawyer for George Cole, one of the now-convicted ex council members, brushed off Rizzo as ‘the thief, the fraud, the destructor of the city.” Said another: “We are here for Mr. Rizzo’s sins.”
During the four-week trial, defendants and attorneys described the former city manager as a controlling, forceful and vengeful manager who used the high salaries as a way to keep city leaders in check.
One former councilman said Rizzo all but forced him to take a lucrative salary and grew angry when the councilman chafed at being paid so much.
Much of the testimony in the council trial could be damning for Rizzo.
The city clerk said documents were forged, and that at Rizzo’s direction, she tricked the city’s mayor by slipping a contract into a stack of otherwise ho-hum resolutions for him to sign.
Another witness said there wasn’t a decision made at city hall that didn’t come with Rizzo’s stamp.
But how the jury’s verdict Wednesday – a mix bag of convictions and acquittals -- translates for Rizzo and his former assistant, Angela Spaccia, is hard to discern. While the council charges were based on the size of the salary they drew for serving on a variety of committees that rarely met, Rizzo is accused of waging a seven-year assault on the city treasury, falsifying public documents, loaning out city funds, and approving raises for himself without council approval.
His attorney is expected to request a change of venue, and has indicated it will ask that the case be moved out of LA, and more to the point, out of the LA Times’ circulation area.
‘It can’t be within the circulation of the L.A.Times,’ defense attorney James Spertus said. ‘That’s the only criteria. No other media is covering this case in the manner the L.A. Times is covering it.’
While Spaccia showed up one day at the Bell council trial, and now works for her attorney, Rizzo has kept a low-profile in recent months.
Bell verdict: Jury sent home, no decision on more deliberations -- Corina Knoll, Jeff Gottlieb and Steve Marble