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.