Former Bell administrator Robert Rizzo pleads guilty to tax charges

Robert Rizzo, the former city manager of Bell who already has pleaded no contest to 69 corruption felonies, pleaded guilty Monday to federal tax charges in which he claimed more than $770,000 in phony losses, mostly on his horse ranch.

Rizzo was dressed in a blue blazer and gray pants, as he has been for nearly all his court appearances. His hair, dyed brown when he was illegally receiving $1.5 million in annual compensation from Bell, is gray.

He agreed last month to plead guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit tax fraud and making a false income tax return.

On Monday, he replied, “Yes, your honor” 76 times to Chief U.S. District Judge George King, but other than that, he offered few words during the half-hour hearing.


Rizzo faces a maximum of eight years in prison and a $500,000 fine, but the plea is part of his attorney’s strategy to ensure he serves his time in a federal institution for nonviolent offenders, often called “country club” prisons, rather than spending some of it in a state facility where he would mix with violent felons.

When Rizzo unexpectedly walked into Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy’s courtroom in October to plead on the corruption charges, Kennedy said she would sentence him to 10 to 12 years in prison, which means he probably would serve half that time.

Rizzo’s attorney continued his surprises when he revealed his client would be pleading guilty to federal tax charges. Kennedy agreed that Rizzo could serve his sentences concurrently, in federal custody.

Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former assistant city manager who was convicted of 11 corruption felonies last month, has not been charged in the tax case, although she is prominently mentioned in the charging documents.

Spaccia is scheduled for sentencing on the corruption charges next week. She was taken into custody immediately after the jury verdict was read, while Rizzo remains free on $2-million bail.

James Spertus, Rizzo’s attorney, said “it would be shocking” if Spaccia is not indicted on the tax charges by the spring. The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.

Harland Braun, Spaccia’s attorney, said Spertus “outmaneuvered” federal prosecutors.

He said that if Rizzo serves the sentences at the same time, the man whose name became synonymous with government corruption will not end up spending any extra time in prison for his crimes in Bell.

Rizzo is scheduled for sentencing on the tax charges March 10. He will be sentenced two days later on the corruption charges, a timetable that will allow Kennedy to send him into federal custody.

According to court documents, from 2006 through 2009, Rizzo claimed illegal losses of $571,530 on his ranch outside Seattle, which he falsely said was rental property.

In 2009 and 2010, according to the plea agreement, Rizzo illegally was paid more than $200,000 for personal expenses from a corporation he set up, including more than $120,000 he paid for work in his Huntington Beach home.