City manager pleads not guilty in Bell, California, pay scandal

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 7:53 PM

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Robert Rizzo, the former city administrator for Bell, California, at the center of a pay scandal over his $1.5 million in annual salary and benefits, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to corruption charges.

Prosecutors say Rizzo was the ringlinder in a scheme by Bell officials to drain city coffers of funds with exorbitant pay and $1.9 million in loans to himself and other officials.

The new arraignment of Rizzo and other officials followed a preliminary hearing that ended earlier this month.

Rizzo, whose annual salary alone was nearly $800,000, is charged with more than 50 counts of fraud, including misappropriation of public funds, falsification of records by an official custodian and conflict of interest.

Bell is a working class and largely Latino city 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Residents flooded Bell City Hall to voice their anger, after the pay scandal was revealed by the Los Angeles Times last year.

Prosecutors on Thursday nixed one count of misappropriation against Rizzo involving a loan, and added another count of misappropriation over excessive compensation to his former assistant, Angela Spaccia.

Spaccia, former Bell mayor Oscar Hernandez and former city councilman Luis Artiga on Thursday also pleaded not guilty to corruption-related charges.

Spaccia had earlier faced four counts of misappropriation of public funds and on Thursday she was charged with a fifth count, and three counts of conflict of interest for allegedly writing her own contracts with the city.

Some of the Bell council members earned annual salaries of $100,000. Bell had a local election this month, in a campaign where the charges against Rizzo and other officials were the main issue, and a new city council was swept into office.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg set another court hearing for May 3 in the case against Rizzo and the three other officials who were arraigned on Thursday.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jerry Norton)