Robert Rizzo, Bell’s notorious former city manager, has pleaded no contest to all 69 counts against him. When sentenced in March, the nation’s poster boy for civic fraud is expected to receive the longest prison term that the LA County District Attorney’s office has ever seen for municipal corruption.
“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,” DA Jackie Lacey said in a statement.
At the height of his fraudulent conduct, Rizzo collected a salary of almost $800,000 a year to run the working-class LA suburb of just over 35,000 residents. In a city where one in four residents lives below the federal poverty line, Rizzo’s complete compensation package including benefits amounted to over $1.5 million before his resignation in July 2010.
Rizzo was charged with a number of shady schemes that defrauded the City of Bell by millions of dollars, including the fact that Rizzo wrote his own employment contracts that were never signed by the city council.
Judge Kathleen Kennedy presided over the case. Kennedy stated that she will sentence Rizzo to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 12 years in state prison.
Trial is scheduled on Monday for Rizzo’s partner-in-crime, former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia. She will now have to stand trial alone and according to the Washington Post, Rizzo may serve as the key prosecution witness against her.
In an interview with the Post, Rizzo defense attorney James Spertus remarked of Spaccia, “Mr. Rizzo, up until the time Angela Spaccia started with the city, made reasonable salaries. Mr. Rizzo doesn’t know how the retirement fund worked, how the salaries are processed.”
Bell resident Ali Saleh, who led the campaign to recall the Bell City Council, expressed the following to the Post:
“This is a bittersweet moment for the residents of Bell,” said Saleh, now a member of the Bell City Council. “We have really fought hard and have been waiting for over three years for this moment, but the reality is that without a trial we don’t get to learn more about how deep the corruption went and who all was involved.”
Along with Saleh, its residents have elected a new council and the City of Bell has worked diligently to clean up its reputation.
Despite the efforts that have been made to clean up the city, a report released earlier this year by State Controller John Chiang pointed out that Bell still suffers from a number of financial and material weaknesses .
“The City of Bell has made some progress since it ejected a corrupt city management two years ago,” said Chiang in a press release. ”But many of the same fiscal management and internal control lapses that allowed Bell to fail its citizens in the past remain unaddressed today… Some problems are urgent, others are structural, but none can be ignored.”
The aftermath of the City of Bell scandal has propelled civic engagement across the state and the nation and increased the general level of interest paid to local government affairs.
“In the wake of the Bell scandal, the League of California Cities and its member cities, city managers and local elected officials took immediate and significant steps to enhance local government transparency and accountability, to assist the residents of Bell in reforming and reconstituting their government, and to provide all California cities with the tools, guidelines and resources to become more open and responsive to their taxpayers,” continued Chris McKenzie, executive director, League of California Cities. “The League of California Cities is pleased it is able to play a continual role in developing tools and resources to ensure maximum transparency and accountability.”
The California League of Cities lauded both the outcome of this case as well as the reforms that have come about as a result.
“The outrageous crimes of a few former elected and appointed officials in the city of Bell represent a significant breach of public trust that is inexcusable. Yet this corruption scandal also served as an important opportunity for local governments throughout California to evaluate and improve upon their own practices,” said League President and San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros.
Verdicts were issued earlier this year for six former Bell City Council members who were charged with fraud and misuse of public funds. Ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole, and Victor Bello were all found guilty of a number of crimes. Luis Artega was found not guilty on all 12 counts he faced. For a refresher of the individuals involved and to check out the full list of charges and verdicts delivered to the six embattled councilmembers, the Los Angeles Times published its “Cheat Sheet.”
Speaking to the Rizzo verdict, resident Marcos Oliva stated the following in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “I was hoping for him to go to trial and to put out in the open all the things he had done.”
Rizzo may still have his day in court as he faces federal charges as well as a civil lawsuit on behalf of the state attorney general.