Breaking News: Rizzo Pleads No Contest to Bell Corruption Charges
Judge says she will sentence him to at least 10 years in prison.
By City News Service
Bell’s former city manager, who masterminded a corruption scheme that paid exorbitant salaries to city officials, pleaded no contest today to all 69 charges brought against him.
Judge Kathleen Kennedy said she will sentence Robert Rizzo to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 12 years in state prison on March 12.
Rizzo made an open plea to the judge less than one week before jury selection was scheduled to begin in his trial, which the judge last month had refused to move out of Los Angeles County. It was not a negotiated settlement with prosecutors, according to District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
Trial is still scheduled to begin Monday for Rizzo’s co-defendant, former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia.
“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.
The county’s top prosecutor said the sentence for Rizzo, who was being paid nearly $800,000 annually before he resigned in July 2010, will be the longest for any defendant convicted of public corruption since the establishment of the office’s Public Integrity Division.
At a hearing last month, Rizzo’s attorney had asked that his client’s trial be moved to Santa Clara or any other Northern California county due to extensive publicity the Bell case has received locally as well as nationally.
Five former Bell elected officials have already been convicted of misappropriating public funds. Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and ex-City Council members George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, George Cole and Victor Bello are also awaiting a retrial on charges on which the original jury could not reach verdicts.
Hernandez, Jacobo and Mirabal were each convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.
The panel completely exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 counts against him.
Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller told jurors during the trial that the officials misappropriated public funds by collecting unlawful salaries for sitting on four city boards — the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority — that rarely met.
Defense attorneys maintained their clients were wrongly accused, arguing they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.
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October 3, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.