A criminal hearing for four Bell officials accused of misappropriating hundreds of thousands in public funds was abruptly halted Wednesday when former City Administrator Robert Rizzo complained of chest pains during a lunch break and was rushed to a hospital.
Rizzo, the face of the Bell salary scandal, was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where a hospital spokeswoman would not comment on his condition. The hearing is scheduled to reconvene Monday.
James Spertus, Rizzo’s attorney, denied initial reports that his client had collapsed and said Rizzo’s discomfort “came on suddenly and was serious enough that paramedics wanted to transport him.”
Rizzo was wheeled on a gurney from the courthouse with a towel on his face, but he appeared conscious.
Spertus declined to speak about the overall health of his client. Of the eight city officials accused of looting Bell’s treasury, Rizzo has been painted as the mastermind and faces 54 felony corruption charges.
In the current hearing, Rizzo and former assistant administrator Angela Spaccia, are accused of writing their own employee contracts without council approval. Former Councilman Luis Artiga and Mayor Oscar Hernandez are also charged in the case for participating in a program in which $1.9 million in city money was loaned to Bell employees, politicians and even a local businessman.
Director of Administrative Services Lourdes Garcia returned to the witness stand Wednesday morning, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett walked her through dozens of agreements that outlined loans made to city employees, paid out of city funds.
Garcia testified that Rizzo authorized each loan and that the only collateral required was the employee’s vacation and sick days. When the owner of a Chevy dealership wanted a $300,000 loan, Garcia said Rizzo instructed her to draft a promissory note, despite her unfamiliarity with such documents.
“Do your best, do what you can. Then we’ll take a look at it together,” Garcia said Rizzo replied. Garcia said she turned to the Internet on how to create the document.
Garcia, who was given limited immunity for her testimony, accepted two city loans totaling $177,500. She said Rizzo and Spaccia suggested the idea to her in 2003 after she bought a new house.
No promissory notes were drawn up for loans given to Artiga and Hernandez, who did not accrue sick or vacation days as council members.
During the hearing, Rizzo, 57, often whispered to Spaccia, hiding his face behind a legal pad. After the courtroom had cleared for lunch, Rizzo was seen sitting on a bench in the hallway near a restroom. He began to experience light-headedness and chest pains, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Times staff writers Jeff Gottlieb, Ruben Vives and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.