Angela Spaccia’s upcoming sentencing for her role in the Bell scandal could bring a first in the long-running corruption case — the testimony of Robert Rizzo.
The former city administrator, who became a symbol of greed and government corruption, has never spoken publicly about the case. He pleaded no contest to 69 felony corruption charges last year rather than stand trial.
But now, the attorney for Rizzo’s former assistant said he would subpoena Rizzo in an effort to get him to reveal details of the wrongdoing in the small, working-class city.
“This is my only choice,” said Harlan Braun, the attorney representing Spaccia, the city’s former second-in-command. Spaccia is set to be sentenced March 21.
Anthony Taylor, an attorney for the city, said he too would like to question Rizzo about the corruption in Bell and to help pinpoint how much restitution the former administrator should be ordered to pay.
“We need to drill down. We need to know all the facts,” Taylor said. “Don’t we all want to get to the bottom of what happened?”
When Rizzo pleaded no contest in October to misappropriating public funds, hiding and falsifying records, perjury and conflict of interest, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said she would sentence him to 10 to 12 years in prison.
Rizzo also volunteered at the time to cooperate with prosecutors, and his attorney said his client wanted “to make amends to the citizens of Bell for engaging in wrongdoing.”
The result of the interview was a six-page report limited to Rizzo’s comments about Spaccia’s role in Bell.
There is no indication that he was questioned about the five convicted council members who are now facing a second trial, the police chief whose contract he and Spaccia tried to conceal or other Bell officials who have come under suspicion and whom Rizzo could possibly implicate.
When Taylor deposed Rizzo for a civil suit in 2011, Bell’s former chief administrative officer invoked the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination for nearly every question.
Because he was not permitted to interview Rizzo and had no idea what he might say on the stand, Braun said that calling him as a witness during Spaccia’s trial was too big a risk. But with his client convicted, he hopes that Rizzo’s testimony could result in leniency for her.
Rizzo’s attorney, James Spertus, said he had no problem with his client testifying.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “Mr. Rizzo offered to testify at trial and Angela Spaccia did not want him as a witness. The reason is because Mr. Rizzo’s testimony is not going to help Angela Spaccia.”
Spertus has insisted that Spaccia was the mastermind of the wrongdoing and that his client has accepted responsibility and agreed to cooperate.
Braun, Spaccia’s attorney, has denied Spertus’ claim and has been angered that Rizzo is free on $2-million bail while Spaccia was handcuffed in court and taken into custody immediately after the guilty verdicts were read.
Braun previously told Spertus in a series of emails that he wanted to interview Rizzo, but Spertus has refused, telling Braun that he should subpoena him instead.
That is what Braun plans to do. He said Wednesday that if Rizzo tells the truth on the witness stand, it will help his client receive a lighter sentence. If he lies, Braun said, it would free Judge Kennedy to break the agreement she made with Rizzo.
Braun said he probably would limit his questions to the charges against Spaccia.
“My interest is about what happened to her, not general discovery,” he said.
Jody Armour, a professor at USC’s Gould School of Law, said Rizzo will be in a delicate situation when he takes the stand.
“If Rizzo seems to just be going through the motions and not following judge’s instructions to be forthcoming, she can certainly hold that against him at sentencing,” Armour said.
The district attorney has recommended that Spaccia, who was convicted of misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and secretion of public documents, be sentenced to 12 years and eight months in prison and ordered to pay $8.2 million restitution.
Spertus has said that he expected Rizzo would be required to pay $1 million to $3.2 million restitution. The district attorney has recommended that Rizzo pay $8.845 million.
Rizzo was scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, but the hearing was put off until April 16, two days after he is to be sentenced on federal tax fraud charges. Kennedy seemed frustrated with the delays in all three Bell cases.
“It would be nice to conclude one of these cases in my lifetime,” she said.