Robert Rizzo, the city administrator who oversaw an era of corruption and graft in one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities, was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in state prison.
Rizzo stared straight ahead, his palms pressed against the defense table as the sentence was read.
“Mr. Rizzo, you did some very, very bad things for a very long time,” Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy told the former Bell city administrator.
The judge said Rizzo transformed himself into a “godfather of sorts” in Bell, an all-powerful ruler who plundered the city’s treasury to pay lavish salaries and dole out loans to fellow employees.
Kennedy also ordered Rizzo to pay $8.8 million in restitution to Bell, but agreed to credit him for money he and the city’s former police chief have already returned to the city.
For the first time since the salary scandal erupted in 2010, Rizzo spoke publicly about his role in the wrongdoing.
In a soft voice, and again staring straight ahead, Rizzo said he was “very, very sorry.”
“If I could go back and make changes. I would,” Rizzo said. “I’ve done it a million times in my mind.”
But a series of speakers, including another Bell elected official, pushed back on the notion that Rizzo was genuine in his apology or had any empathy for the citizens of the city.
“The damage has been done and the money is gone,” said City Councilwoman Violetta Alvarez, who was elected as a reformer after authorities arrested Rizzo and seven other Bell city leaders.
“This is not about him anymore,” added a Maywood resident who said his town also suffered at Rizzo’s hands. “This is about the people getting justice.”
Rizzo was already sentenced to 33 months in federal prison Monday for a tax fraud scheme in which he claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in phony losses, mostly tied to his sprawling horse ranch outside Seattle.
He will be allowed to serve his sentences concurrently.
Once the highest paid municipal administrator in California, and possibly the nation, Rizzo became the face of the widespread corruption in Bell. When he was forced to resign in 2010, Rizzo had a total compensation package of roughly $1.5 million a year and was on track to become the highest paid public pensioner in California when he retired.
When Rizzo and the others were arrested in the summer on 2010, then-L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steven Cooley called the case “corruption on steroids.” Since then, five city council member have been convicted of misappropriating city funds and the town’s second-in-command, Spaccia, last week was sentenced to 11 years and eight months in prison for her role in the wrongdoing.
One council member, a preacher in the working-class town, was acquitted.
Kennedy order Rizzo to surrender to authorities to begin serving his sentence on May 30.