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Ex-City Manager Caught In Calif. Salary Scandal Gets 12 Years

Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo arrives at the Edward R. Roybal federal building and United States courthouse on Monday. Rizzo received 12 years in prison and was ordered to pay nearly $9 million in restitution for a scheme to pad his salary.
Nick Ut

Robert Rizzo, the former city manager of Bell, Calif., who pleaded no contest to conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds and falsification of public records, has been ordered to serve 12 years in state prison and repay nearly $9 million.

Rizzo, who was city manager of Bell until 2010, apologized during sentencing, telling Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy that he "[breached] the public trust" and that "I am so sorry for that. I will never do anything like this again."

But Kennedy rebuked the defendant for what she called his greed, including giving himself a $1.5 million annual salary and benefits package to run the town of 40,000. His $800,000 salary alone was double that given to the president of the United States.

"It is a good thing to hear that he is sorry, and I'll take him at his word that he is sorry," Kennedy said. "But it doesn't change the fact that, Mr. Rizzo, you did some very, very bad things for a very long time."

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," she said.

"That is the theme of what happened in Bell," she said, adding that "there were no checks and balances to control Mr. Rizzo and those that were in power in the city."

The Associated Press says:

"On Monday, Rizzo was sentenced separately to 33 months in federal prison for income tax evasion after he acknowledged reporting more than $700,000 in phony deductions to reduce tax liability on money authorities say he stole from Bell.

"The sentence in the corruption case will run concurrently with the federal term. Rizzo will serve the first 33 months in federal prison, then go to state prison. He will be on parole for three years after he serves his time. He was ordered to surrender by May 30."

Shirley Jahad, of member station KPCC, reports:

"The judge allowed Rizzo to remain free until May 30, when he must surrender to start his sentence. 'I would not trust his word' to surrender, Kennedy said, 'but I would take 3 million reasons.' The bail for Rizzo was set at $3 million. He's set to serve his state prison term and his federal term for income tax evasion concurrently.

"Unlike Rizzo, his chief assistant Angela Spaccia — who was sentenced last week to 11 years, 8 months in prison — was taken in an orange jumpsuit and chains directly to jail following her sentencing.

"Bell residents also testified at Rizzo's sentencing hearing, with one resident telling the judge that Rizzo preyed on the people of Bell and that he deserves as much time in prison as he can get."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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