Bell’s Robert Rizzo pleads no contest, to get 10 to 12 years in prison
Longtime Bell city administrator Robert Rizzo, who became a national symbol for public corruption for alleged graft in the small city, pleaded no contest to 69 charges, prosecutors said Thursday.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement that Rizzo had agreed to a 10 to 12 year sentence in state prison, which she described as the largest ever in an L.A. County public corruption case.
“Although we were prepared to go to trial and felt confident we could convict Mr. Rizzo of all charges, we are pleased he chose to admit his guilt and accept full responsibility for the irreparable harm he caused the people of Bell,” Lacey said in a statement.
Five former Bell city council members were convicted of some corruption charges earlier this year.
Rizzo, who for 17 years served as Bell’s chief administrative officer, was set to stand trial in the coming months on 69 felony counts that were in some ways simpler to understand than the charges that council members faced.
He is accused of falsifying public records, perjury, conspiracy, misappropriating public funds and conflict of interest. He was to go on trial with Angela Spaccia, his former assistant who faces 13 felony counts. She is employing a strategy similar to the council members’: Blame Rizzo.
Rizzo owned a stable of thoroughbreds, among them a gelding named Depenserdel’argent -- French for “spend money.”
Prosecutors allege that he falsified contracts to hide the size of his salary.
When a Bell resident filed a public records request for the salaries of Rizzo and the council members, Rizzo allegedly instructed city officials to provide false figures.
Rizzo is also charged with giving unauthorized city-funded loans to himself and numerous others, including Spaccia and other city officials. Among other recipients was the Steelworkers Old Timers Foundation, a senior citizens group run by then-Councilman George Cole, which received $72,000 in 2005.
James Spertus, a former federal prosecutor who represents Rizzo, said at the preliminary hearing that Bell’s city charter gave his client extraordinary powers and that everything he did was legal.
He could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Spaccia is still scheduled to go on trial.
[For the record, 4:10 p.m., Oct. 3: An earlier version of this post said Rizzo agreed to serve 10 to 12 years in state prison. It should have said he agreed to a 10- to 12-year sentence; he will spend no more than half that time in prison, his attorney said.]
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