Pros­e­cu­tors ac­cuse Rizzo of or­der­ing an em­ployee to draft phony con­tracts.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Jack Leonard

For­mer Bell City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Robert Rizzo ap­pears for ar­raign­ment in Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court in down­town L.A. Seven other de­fen­dants in the case also ap­peared in court Wed­nes­day.

$29.3 mil­lion

To­tal ques­tion­able costs, ex­pen­di­tures and salaries un­cov­ered by au­di­tors. In­cludes $5.6 mil­lion in tax and fee over­charges and a $4.8-mil­lion prop­erty pur­chased from a for­mer mayor.

$4.7 mil­lion

Ad­di­tional fees col­lected since fis­cal year 2007-08 with­out voter ap­proval for sewer, light­ing, trash and re­cy­cling. Al­most $1.1mil­lion went to salaries for two top of­fi­cials.

$50 mil­lion

Bonds is­sued un­der Mea­sure A for the Bell Sports Com­plex with­out any plans, doc­u­ments or time­line for com­ple­tion. The land is now lit­tle more than “a dirt lot.”

Los An­ge­les County pros­e­cu­tors, in records ob­tained Wed­nes­day by The Times, lay out in the most de­tail yet the lengths to which they al­lege for­mer Bell City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Robert Rizzo went to hide ex­trav­a­gant salaries for him­self and other city of­fi­cials.

The court doc­u­ments ac­cuse Rizzo of di­rect­ing an em­ployee to draft false con­tracts and other records in Septem­ber 2008 that con­cealed how much he and coun­cil mem­bers made. Then a few months ago, un­der grow­ing scru­tiny of his salary, the city man­ager asked a sub­or­di­nate to ob­tain Mayor Os­car Her­nan­dez’s sig­na­ture on some of those 2008 con­tracts, the court fil­ing says. The sub­or­di­nate pointed out that an­other coun­cil mem­ber had been the mayor in 2008.

“Rizzo di­rected the sub­or­di­nate to ob­tain Os­car Her­nan­dez’s sig­na­ture any­way be­cause Her­nan­dez would be will­ing to sign,” the doc­u­ments say. “The sub­or­di­nate did so.”

The al­le­ga­tions were made in court doc­u­ments ask­ing a judge to pre­vent Rizzo and seven other cur­rent and for­mer city lead­ers charged this week from us­ing money im­prop­erly taken from Bell to bail them­selves out of jail.

Rizzo’s at­tor­ney, James W. Sper­tus, did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions. But he has re­peat­edly said that his client is in­no­cent.

The pros­e­cu­tion doc­u­ments al­lege that Rizzo used the false 2008 con­tracts in re­sponse to ques­tions about his salary. He al­legedly told

one cit­i­zen who asked whether he was re­ally mak­ing $400,000, “If I can make that kind of money, I wouldn’t be work­ing here.”

Pros­e­cu­tors ac­cused Rizzo of con­tin­u­ing to use the false con­tracts in re­cent months amid grow­ing scru­tiny of his salary by the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice and oth­ers.

Some­time af­ter June, one of the false 2008 con­tracts was given to the city at­tor­ney fol­low­ing re­quests for records of Rizzo’s pay. The con­tract listed Rizzo’s salary as $221,460. In re­al­ity, Rizzo was on course to make more than $1.5 mil­lion in salary and ben­e­fits this year.

As re­cently as last week, Rizzo pointed to the con­tracts in re­sponse to ques­tions from the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and falsely claimed they were gen­uine and were ap­proved by the City Coun­cil, the court doc­u­ments al­lege.

“By con­tin­u­ing to main­tain the fic­tion that the doc­u­ments pur­port­ing to be Septem­ber 2008 con­tracts are gen­uine, Mr. Rizzo con­tin­ues to re­tain pub­lic funds felo­niously ob­tained,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Hunts­man wrote in one of the court doc­u­ments.

As The Times re­ported ear­lier this month, pros­e­cu­tors said that the con­tracts were never ap­proved by the coun­cil. In ad­di­tion, Hunts­man al­leged that As­sis­tant City Ad­min­is­tra­tor An­gela Spac­cia’s com­puter was used in 2005 to gen­er­ate a con­tract that gave her large raises with­out coun­cil apand proval.

“A sub­stan­tial por­tion of her com­pen­sa­tion from the City of Bell ap­pears to have been ob­tained felo­niously,” Hun­st­man wrote.

Spac­cia was charged this week with mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing pub­lic funds, but she was not charged in con­nec­tion with the al­leged 2005 con­tract.

The court doc­u­ments also say Rizzo di­rected an em­ployee to draft a memo in 2008 that listed coun­cil mem­ber pay as about $8,000 a year. In re­al­ity, coun­cil mem­bers were mak­ing far more — nearly $100,000 ear­lier this year.

Rizzo, 56, is charged with 53 felony counts of mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of pub­lic funds, fal­si­fi­ca­tion of pub­lic doc­u­ments and con­flicts of in­ter­est. If con­victed, he faces up to 58 years in state prison.

The other Bell de­fen­dants are charged with mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing pub­lic funds. All eight are ex­pected to en­ter pleas Oct. 21.

Wear­ing brown jail scrubs and shack­led to a waist chain, Rizzo ap­peared in court Wed­nes­day along­side the seven other de­fen­dants. He rocked gen­tly back forth in his chair as his at­tor­ney ar­gued that his bail should be re­duced.

“He has been here for 30 years,” Sper­tus said in court. “There is nowhere to run.... Ev­ery­body knows his face.”

Su­pe­rior Court Judge Michael E. Pas­tor re­duced Rizzo’s bail from $3.2 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion, but de­clined to sig­nif­i­cantly change the bail amounts for the other de­fen­dants.

“The charged of­fenses are, in my opin­ion, ex­tremely se­ri­ous,” Pas­tor said.

Coun­cil­woman Teresa Ja­cobo was re­leased on $260,000 bail, and Coun­cil­man Luis Ar­tiga was re­leased on $120,000 bail. For­mer Coun­cil­man Ge­orge Cole was ex­pected to be re­leased late Wed­nes­day.

Rizzo, Spac­cia, Her­nan­dez and Coun­cil­man Ge­orge Mira­bal and for­mer Coun­cil­man Vic­tor Bello re­mained be­hind bars late Wed­nes­day.

Source: Bell au­dit re­port by Cal­i­for­nia State Con­troller John Chi­ang Al Seib


Al Seib

For­mer and cur­rent Bell of­fi­cials, from left, Robert Rizzo, An­gela Spac­cia, Vic­tor Bello and Os­car Her­nan­dez ap­pear in court on Wed­nes­day. Doc­u­ments out­line the steps they al­legedly took to con­ceal pay.

Al Seib

HEAR­ING: Judge Michael E. Pas­tor re­duced Robert Rizzo’s bail to $2 mil­lion but de­clined to sig­nif­i­cantly change the bail amounts for the seven other de­fen­dants.

AC­CUSED: For­mer Bell City Coun­cil­man Ge­orge Mira­bal re­mained be­hind bars late Wed­nes­day.

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