Robert Rizzo, the former city manager of the scandal-plagued city of Bell, issued a surprise no contest plea Thursday for all 69 counts he faced, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced.
Rizzo is expected to be sentenced to the longest prison term for public corruption since the DA’s Public Integrity Division was founded in 2000, Lacey said in a news release.
When the depth of corruption in Bell was exposed by the Los Angeles Times, anger erupted in the small, largely Latino and poor city southeast of downtown LA.
The city had been left nearly bankrupt by a scheme that lined the pockets of Rizzo, his deputy and elected officials, prosecutors said.
“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,” Lacey said in a statement.
Rizzo was expected to testify against his former deputy, ex-Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, according to her attorney. Spaccia is scheduled to go to trial on Monday, the DA’s office said.
In March, five out of six former elected city officials were found guilty of various counts of misappropriation of public funds. Only one councilman out of the “Bell 6” was found not guilty.
Rizzo’s plea on Thursday comes less than a week before jury selection was set to begin in the massive public corruption trial, the DA’s office said.
Rizzo was being paid nearly $800,000 annually before he resigned in July 2010, the DA’s office said.
He was charged with a variety of schemes that defrauded the city of Bell of millions of dollars, including writing his own employment contracts that were never approved by the City Council, the DA’s office said.
Judge Kennedy said she will sentence Rizzo to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 12 years in state prison, the DA’s office said.
BASTA, an activist group formed in the wake of the scandal, issued a statement that said members had “mixed emotions” about Rizzo’s plea.
“It was our hope that a trial would have helped shed light on the layers of corrupt practices Rizzo carried out and that those complicit in that corruption would have also been revealed,” BASTA stated.
Rizzo’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 12, 2014, according to the DA’s office.
Harland Braun, the defense attorney for Spaccia, said Rizzo is making a deal for a reduced sentence.
“Now he’s claiming that Angela is the mastermind behind all the fraud,” Braun said. “It’s absurd. Everyone knows Rizzo is the mastermind.”