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Former Bell, California, administrator sues city for his $11,000 monthly salary

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Tue November 1, 2011
Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appears in a Los Angeles court in September 2010.
Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appears in a Los Angeles court in September 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former city administrator Robert Rizzo says the city owes his salary
  • He was ousted in July 2010 and is suing the city for breach of contract
  • Rizzo is facing 55 counts of public corruption charges
  • His basic salary is $11,000 a month

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The former city administrator of Bell, California -- who's at the center of corruption allegations that he and seven other city officials misappropriated $5.5 million in salaries and personal loans -- is suing the city for breach of contract and labor code violations.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Robert Adrian Rizzo said his employment agreement as city administrator provided for continuous renewals under an "evergreen contract."

The employment agreement said Rizzo could be involuntarily terminated only for a felony conviction or a crime involving moral turpitude, a legal term describing conduct contrary to moral standards. The agreement also required a 90-day notice of termination, the lawsuit said.

Rizzo said he hasn't been convicted of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude.

"As such, the city did not have, and does not have, 'cause' to terminate Rizzo under the agreement," the lawsuit said.

The 90-day notice was also never made, the suit alleged.

Bell officials haven't received a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Rizzo, who was city administrator from 1993 to July 2010, is representing himself in the lawsuit and isn't using an attorney, according to the court documents.

Los Angeles County prosecutors are accusing Rizzo of 55 counts of corruption charges, including that he allegedly gave nearly $1.9 million in unauthorized loans to himself, his assistant, council members and dozens of others, prosecutors said.

In July 2010, when the corruption allegations surfaced, the city council locked Rizzo out of his office and stopped paying his salary, the suit said.

In his lawsuit, Rizzo is also alleging labor code violations against the city for not paying his salary and benefits since July 2010, the lawsuit said. His basic salary is $11,000 a month -- plus a $400 monthly car allowance and $7,500 annual deferred compensation paid into a retirement plan, according to court documents.

"Rizzo is entitled to recover back pay, front pay and all wages and benefits owed under the agreement," the lawsuit said. "Rizzo's employment is fully enforceable. The city, however, has failed and refused to pay Rizzo his salary and benefits under the agreement."

Rizzo is among a total of eight former Bell city officials -- called the Bell Eight -- who are facing corruption charges.

All eight former officials, including six former council members and Rizzo's assistant Angela Spaccia, have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors accuse the eight of misappropriating more than $5.5 million, including being paid for phantom committee meetings and making illegal personal loans.

Prosecutors allege the six former council members, including the former mayor, misappropriated about $1.2 million in public funds and illegally gamed the system to receive exorbitant salaries for doing no work. They face nearly two dozen counts, prosecutors said.

The six elected officials facing charges are former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former city council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello, prosecutors said.

Between 2006 and 2010, the council members were paid nearly $8,000 a month for meetings on four boards that never took place or lasted just a few minutes, prosecutors allege.

CNN's Irving Last contributed to this report.

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