Two weeks after he and seven Bell city leaders were arrested in a far-reaching public corruption case, former city administrator Robert Rizzo was released from jail before midnight Wednesday, hours after a Los Angeles County judge said she was satisfied the assets being posted for his $2-million bail did not come from illegal activity.
Rizzo’s release time was listed at 11:58 p.m. on a sheriff’s inmate information website.
Rizzo, 56, cracked a slight smile but showed no other emotion when Judge Mary Lou Villar ruled that he could be released. She ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device and to surrender his passport.
The former city manager’s attorney complained outside the courtroom that his client had been treated harshly by a district attorney trying to win public points as he runs for state attorney general. He said Rizzo should have been able to bail out of jail much more quickly and without such resistance from prosecutors.
“He is a piñata, a figurehead,” James Spertus said of the community anger directed at his client. “I hope the mob mentality subsides.”
Rizzo is the central figure in the Bell corruption case in which the mayor, council members and former administrators are charged with misappropriating more than $5.5 million from the small, working-class community.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley described Rizzo as “the unelected and unaccountable czar” who pocketed vast sums of money from the city treasury as if it were his personal cash box. Cooley described the level of alleged illegal activity in Bell as being “corruption on steroids.”
Along with Rizzo, authorities arrested Mayor Oscar Hernandez, council members Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, as well as former Councilmen Victor Bello and George Cole. Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia also was arrested. Bello and Mirabal have been unable to raise bail.
During a three-hour hearing Wednesday, Villar agreed that the five pieces of property that friends and relatives had pledged as collateral were worth more than enough to guarantee the $2-million bail and were not linked to Rizzo or the money he is accused of misappropriating.
The judge rejected an argument by prosecutors that a loan Rizzo’s mother-in-law made to Bell’s former assistant city administrator, Angela Spaccia, tainted all the relative’s assets.
Rizzo’s attorney said that five properties in Torrance and Los Angeles were more than sufficient collateral for bail and asked the former city administrator’s mother-in-law, Su Lin Chen Chiang, to testify that she was putting up her home, another property she owned and had more than $1 million from the sale of another house.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman tried to block Rizzo’s attempt to make bail by challenging the value of the homes, producing an earlier defense team analysis stating that the combined properties were worth less than $2 million.
Huntsman also questioned Rizzo’s mother-in-law about a $200,000 loan she provided to Spaccia, who apparently needed the money to buy a home in Idaho. Spaccia, however, never bought the house and returned half the money to Chiang.
Chiang did concede, however, that the money Spaccia returned to her was put into the same account she tapped to guarantee Rizzo’s bail.