Corrupt Calif. municipal official pleads no contest, expects long prison term
LOS ANGELES — A disgraced former city manager accused of masterminding a brazen municipal corruption scandal pleaded no contest on Thursday to 69 counts of fraud, misappropriation of public funds and other charges.
Robert Rizzo was charged with stealing more than $5 million from the modest, blue-collar city of Bell, where one in four people live below the federal poverty line.
“Mr. Rizzo is trying to send a clear message that he accepts responsibility for wrongdoing,” said his attorney, James Spertus. “He made mistakes, and he's trying to make amends for that.”
Rizzo became the face of a widespread city government scandal after it was revealed in 2010 that he was giving himself an annual salary and benefits package of $1.5 million. His $800,000 in wages alone was double that of the president of the United States.
When he was arrested, he was living in an expensive home in the upscale oceanfront community of Huntington Beach and owned a thoroughbred horse ranch in Washington state. He posted $2 million bail to get out of jail.
Authorities said he paid most members of the city council some $100,000 a year, even though the panel meets only about twice a month to handle matters for the city of about 35,000 people.
Rizzo, 59, is scheduled to be sentenced on March 12 and expected to be sent to prison for 10 to 12 years.
Spertus said Rizzo expects to plead guilty to federal tax charges and resolve a lawsuit filed by the state attorney's general.
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments â either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.