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Bell Corruption Scandal

The City of Bell corruption scandal involved allegations of misappropriation of public funds by officials over a period of several years.

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Longtime Bell administrator Robert Rizzo was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison, closing the books on a sweeping public corruption scandal that made the small southeast Los Angeles County city synonymous with graft.


Robert Rizzo was sentenced on April 16, 2014, to 12 years in prison for his role in the Bell corruption scandal. (Credit: Pool)

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” L.A. County Superior Court Judge Kathleen G. Kennedy said in sentencing. “That is the theme of what happened in Bell. There were no checks and balances … Rizzo was controlling everything.”

Kennedy said the corruption continued for so long because city leaders were being paid “absolutely ridiculous” salaries.

“Nobody wanted to upset the apple cart because they were paid so well,” she said.

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Robert Rizzo, the former top administrator who oversaw an era of corruption in the small, working-class city of Bell, was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison Monday on tax fraud charges.


Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo in court in 2012. (Credit: LA Times)

For Rizzo, the sentence is likely the first of two prison terms he will be handed this week. He returns to court Wednesday, when he is expected to be sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison on corruption-related charges.

He was also ordered to pay $256,000 in restitution to the federal government.

Federal prosecutors said Rizzo’s tax crimes were particularly “egregious” because he stole money as the city administrator in Bell and then turned around and cheated the federal government.

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The former second-in-command in the scandal-plagued city of Bell became the first person sentenced in the city’s massive public corruption case Thursday, ordered to spend 11 years and eight months in prison for misappropriating public funds from one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities.


Angela Spaccia sits next to Bell’s former chief executive, Robert Rizzo, at a court hearing in 2011. (Credit: LA Times)

Angela Spaccia, who has been jailed since she was convicted in December on 11 corruption-related charges, has consistently denied any wrongdoing, pinning the blame on the city’s strong-willed chief executive and arguing that she wasn’t even at City Hall when much of the wrongdoing took place.

Spaccia said her $564,000-a-year salary was perhaps unethical but not illegal. Her salary was boosted by 26 weeks annual vacation and sick leave she cashed out each year, amounting to a 50% pay increase.

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors said Spaccia was an unrepentant criminal.

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Five former political leaders in the scandal-plagued city of Bell have agreed to plead no contest to corruption charges and could be sentenced to up to four years in prison for their role in looting the treasury of one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities.


Former Bell Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo in court during the trial last year. (Credit: LATimes)

Had the former council members refused to take the offer, they could have been sentenced to twice as many years behind bars.

The ex-council members are accused of drawing extraordinary salaries by serving on boards and commissions that seldom, if ever, met. By the time they were removed from office in 2010, they were making up to $100,000 a year for their part-time work.

The case against George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, Victor Bello and George Mirabal was part of a much broader web of corruption in Bell in which the city’s top administrator was accused of staging a relentless raid on the city treasury by paying extreme salaries, loaning out city money and approving contracts without City Council approval.

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Sentencing for former longtime Bell city administrator Robert Rizzo was postponed Wednesday but not before attorneys for the city and his former assistant said they intend to subpoena him to find out the inner details of the public corruption in the small Los Angeles County city.


Robert Rizzo, the disgraced former top administrator in the city of Bell, appeared March 12, 2014, in Los Angeles Superior Court, where his sentencing was postponed until April 16. (Credit: KTLA)

Rizzo, who remains free on bond, was ordered to return to court April 16, when it is expected he will be sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison.

Less clear is whether he will be permitted to serve the time concurrently with a federal sentence for filing false tax returns.

An attorney representing Angela Spaccia, Bell’s former second-in-command, said outside court that he intends to subpoena Rizzo so that he can question the former city administrator about the wrongdoing in Bell.

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Although sentencing for Angela Spaccia on corruption charges was delayed on Wednesday, her attorney took the opportunity to criticize the judge in the case. Jim Nash reports from downtown Los Angeles for the KTLA 5 News at 1 on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014.

At a hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom where Angela Spaccia appeared in shackles and jail orange on Friday, sentencing for the former Bell city administrator was postponed.


Angela Spaccia appears in criminal court in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 17, 2014, when her sentencing hearing was postponed. (Credit: pool)

The judge said that she was still waiting on a probation report for Spaccia, which is required by law before sentencing.

The judge noted that probation officers said they have had a hard time setting up an interview with Spaccia. Her defense attorney said he found that hard to believe.

Sentencing was postponed until Feb. 26.

When Spaccia was brought to the courtroom, she walked in, sat down, then turned around to the audience of reporters and visitors and smiled.

Spaccia has been convicted  Dec. 9 of 11 counts of felony public corruption.

A former assistant city manager in Bell, she was charged in a corruption scheme that inflated her salary along with that of ex-City Manager Robert Rizzo and City Council members. The case made headlines around the globe.

Bell, a city of about 35,000 largely low-income and Latino residents, was left nearly bankrupt by the plot, prosecutors said.

Charges included conspiracy to misappropriate public funds, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest.

KTLA’s Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.

Robert A. Rizzo, the former Bell city administrator who oversaw an era of corruption, pleaded guilty Monday to two federal tax charges.

filephoto robert rizzo guilty bell corruption

Robert Rizzo arrives for court on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

[Updated 12:20 p.m. PST Jan. 13: Dressed in a blue blazer and gray slacks, Rizzo repeatedly said "Yes, your honor," as he agreed to plead guilty to filing a false tax return and conspiring to file a false tax return.

Rizzo, who already faces a potential 12-year sentence on corruption charges, could get up to eight years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine on the tax case.]

The tax case alleged that he further inflated his take-home pay by claiming more than $770,000 in bogus losses on his tax returns.

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Robert Rizzo, the former Bell city manager who was caught in a public corruption scheme in 2010, agreed to plead guilty to evading hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal income tax.


Former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo shown during a court appearance. (Credit: KTLA)

In a plea agreement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Rizzo, 59, admitted guilt on two felony charges: corruption and filing a false federal tax return with the Internal Revenue Service.

The agreement, which comes 10 weeks after Rizzo entered a no contest plea to 69 state criminal counts related to a scheme to enrich himself and other Bell employees, was announced in a news release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

In the agreement, Rizzo admitted to falsifying tax returns for a company called R.A. Rizzo Incorporated, which he created in 2002.

“Instead of filing accurate tax returns, Mr. Rizzo claimed bogus corporate losses on his income tax return to illegally reduce his tax liability,” IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber said in a news release.

Using R.A. Rizzo Incorporated, the former city manager claimed “losses” in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, using his company as a shield to hide a lavish lifestyle.

Between 2006 and 2009 alone, nearly $410,000 was fraudulently deducted in tax returns filed by Rizzo’s corporation. The returns claimed the losses were related to a “purported rental property in Auburn, Washington,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office news release stated.

In 2010, Rizzo used his corporation to pay for $120,000 in construction work on his Huntington Beach home and $80,000 in personal expenses, he admitted.

Robert J. Melcher, Rizzo’s tax preparer, assisted his client in the scheme, prosecutors said. Melcher has pleaded guilty to charges of co-conspiracy and faces up to three years in federal prison.

Rizzo was expected in federal court for an upcoming hearing, where he faces a maximum prison sentence of eight years, authorities said.

According to the DA’s Office, he was also set to formally accept his 69 state criminal counts of public corruption — and up to 12 years in state prison — at a sentencing hearing scheduled for March 12.