The former administrator of a small Los Angeles County city who made national headlines for receiving almost $800,000 in annual compensation has pleaded no contest to criminal charges and faces to the longest prison term imposed locally for public corruption in more than a decade.
Robert Rizzo, former city manager of Bell, Calif., was to go on trial on Monday but entered his plea on Thursday during a hearing his attorneys had requested. His plea, which was not subject to a deal with prosecutors, was to 69 counts related to defrauding the city of millions of dollars, including for writing compensation contracts for himself that weren’t approved by the city council.
“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,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a prepared statement.
Rizzo’s attorney, James Spertus of Spertus, Landes & Umhofer in Los Angeles, called the plea a “spectacular outcome” for his client. He noted that the plea would likely resolve a separate case brought by California’s attorney general against Rizzo and other city leaders for reimbursement, as well as a related federal investigation in which charges have yet to be filed. “It’s a fair and just outcome to a very complicated case,” he said.
Another defendant in the case, Bell’s former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia, still faces trial on Monday.
During Thursday’s hearing, Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said she would sentence Rizzo to 10 to 12 years in state prison, according to the district attorney’s office. Such a sentence, prosecutors claimed, would be the longest for anyone convicted of public corruption in Los Angeles County in 13 years. But Spertus said his client likely would serve about five years in prison.
Rizzo was charged with misappropriating more than $3 million, giving illegal loans to fellow employees, including himself, and falsifying contracts.
Earlier this year, a Los Angeles jury convicted all but one of six former Bell city council members charged with related crimes, including the former mayor.
Meanwhile, Bell sued its former bond counsel, Nixon Peabody, for conflicts associated with a $35 million private bond offering in 2007; and Riverside, Calif.’s Best Best & Krieger, whose former partner, Edward Lee, served as Bell’s city attorney during Rizzo’s tenure. As part of an August 29 settlement of the entire case, Best Best & Krieger and Lee agreed to pay $250,000 to resolve the bond claims, and the city voluntarily dismissed its case against Nixon Peabody.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.