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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bell’s Rizzo Handed 12-Year Sentence

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The city of Bell's former top official Robert Rizzo was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in state prison for a public corruption scheme that almost bankrupted the city.

The stiff sentence came three days after Rizzo was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for tax fraud .

One of his co-conspirators, Angela Spaccia, was sentenced last week to 11 years and eight months in state prison.

Their state court sentences add up to the longest prison terms handed down to public officials since the inception in 2001 of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office Public Integrity Division in 2001.

Rizzo, 60, was ordered to pay $8.8 million in restitution to Bell. He pleaded no contest to 69 felony counts in Superior Court last October.

"Rizzo believed he was above the law. His greed and total disregard for the hard-working people of Bell have lasting consequences," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. "Stealing public funds is a serious crime that destroys the public trust. We are sending a clear message that we are doing our part to restore confidence in government by vigorously prosecuting any public official who misuses his or her authority to steal from their constituents."

Bell, pop. 36,500, is one of Los Angeles County's poorest cities. During Rizzo's tenure, the six highest-paid administrators in the city were paid combined annual salaries of $6 million.

Rizzo's ill-fated march toward conviction began in September 1994 when he was hired as the city's chief administrative officer. His annual starting salary of $300,000 had ballooned to $800,000 by the time he resigned in disgrace in the summer of 2010. To put that in perspective, President Barack Obama's annual salary is $400,000.

Without the City Council's blessing, Rizzo paid himself an additional $400,000 each year for unused sick and vacation time. He wrote his own employment contracts, set up a pension fund that would have paid out $8 million when he retired, and gave loans to himself and those below him.

Rizzo was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit misappropriation, 46 counts of misappropriation of public funds, 10 counts of falsification of public records, six counts of perjury and six counts of conflict of interest, the District Attorney's Office said.

Five convicted former Bell council members face sentencing in June and July. Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and former Council members George Mirabal, Victor Bello and George Cole could spend four years each in state prison.

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