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Former California city manager sentenced to 12 years for corruption

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 3:02 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Former Bell city employees Robert Rizzo, Angela Spaccia, Victor Bello and Oscar Hernandez at a 2010 hearing.
Former Bell city employees Robert Rizzo, Angela Spaccia, Victor Bello and Oscar Hernandez at a 2010 hearing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The former city manager of Bell, California, will repay $8.8 million in restitution
  • Robert Rizzo and other convicted former officials stole nearly $11 million from the city
  • Rizzo and those convicted officials "looted at will," prosecutors said
  • The public corruption case drew attention for its big theft in such a small city

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The former city manager of Bell, California, was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in state prison in a corruption case in which he and several other former city council members were accused of turning taxpayer money into a personal "piggy bank."

Robert Rizzo also was ordered Wednesday to repay $8.8 million in restitution to the city, prosecutors said.

In October, Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 felony counts of public corruption, 46 counts of misappropriation of public funds, 10 counts of falsification of public records, six counts of perjury and six counts of conflict of interest, prosecutors said.

In all, Rizzo, another former city official and five former council members -- all of them now convicted -- stole nearly $11 million from the Los Angeles-area city of about 35,000 people, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

The corruption case drew national attention for its large-scale theft by so many elected and appointed officials in such a small city. The former officials paid themselves exorbitant salaries for little or no work.

Rizzo began working for the city of Bell in 1994 as its chief administrative officer, and his council-approved annual salary rose to $300,000 in 2004, prosecutors said. He began taking home $800,000 in "illegal pay" by the time he resigned in July 2010, prosecutors said.

Former administrator sues for his salary

Rizzo also paid himself an additional $400,000 annually by cashing out unused sick and vacation time that was not council approved, prosecutors said.

Rizzo also wrote his own employment contracts and created "a secret pension fund that would have given him $8 million upon retirement," prosecutors said.

Former District Attorney Steve Cooley, who initially handled the charges, had called the case a "feeding frenzy of corruption by Bell officials." Prosecutors accused the former city officials of turning the city treasury into "their own piggy bank, which they looted at will."

In a statement, District Attorney Jackie Lacey said "Rizzo believed he was above the law."

"His greed and total disregard for the hard-working people of Bell have lasting consequences," Lacey said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy imposed Wednesday's sentence.

Last year, former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and former council members George Mirabal, Victor Bello and George Cole were convicted by a jury on several counts of misappropriation of public funds, prosecutors said. The jury, however, acquitted them or were deadlocked on several similar counts, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors sought a retrial on those deadlocked charges, but that effort ended this month when the five former council members pleaded no contest to two counts of misappropriation of public funds. Under the plea deal, the five former officials avoided a retrial, but they now could face up to four years in state prison, prosecutors said.

The five former elected officials admitted to earning up to $100,000 annually for serving on boards or commissions that never met or convened for only minutes a year, prosecutors said. They also agreed to pay restitution, the amount of which has yet to be determined.

Rizzo's former chief administrative officer, Angela Spaccia, was convicted by a jury in December of 11 felony counts for writing her own employment contracts, taking loans without council approval, and creating her own retirement plan, prosecutors said.

Spaccia was sentenced last week to 11 years and eight months in state prison, prosecutors said.

The sentences for Rizzo and Spaccia together "represent the longest prison terms for convicted public officials since the Public Integrity Division was established in 2001" in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, prosecutors said.

Rizzo also "lavished unauthorized loans on himself and city underlings, including Spaccia," prosecutors said.

CNN's Amanda Watts contributed to this report.

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